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waxwing birds in winter UK


Garden Birds



8th April 2015

Last Updated: 8th July 2021

I had the greatest pleasure photographing these delightful birds in my hometown of Londonderry, Northern Ireland, when they last arrived in huge numbers. To see them so close at hand and observe their behaviour was an experience I will never ever forget.

As a very keen birder and wildlife photographer it was a great tick and click for me to be able to add Waxwings to my specie list, and also to my series of bird images. After studying and reading up on them from bird books, and then the Internet, I learnt a lot of very interesting and exciting facts about them…

Waxwings do not breed in the UK, but are often winter visitors from Scandinavia. Sometimes they arrive in significant numbers known as ‘irruptions’. This happens when the Waxwing population grows too large for the available food source on its home breeding grounds.


When they visit the UK and Ireland in such numbers, they will always be found near a plentiful supply of berried trees, such as rowans, hawthorns and cotoneasters, where they can strip whole branches and trees in minutes. They are a social and sometimes very tame flock bird and make the most incredible of visitors with their extraordinary colour combinations. They have mainly chocolate brown plumage, a dark line through the eye and black under the chin, a square-ended tail with a red or yellow tip, and a pointed crest. The bill, eyes, and feet are dark. Their plumage is soft and silky and they also have unique red tips to some of their wing feathers, which look like sealing wax, giving the birds their unusual name. As a waxwing gets older the number and size of its “wax tips” increases.Waxwings are very sociable birds and while feeding they are highly cooperative. The flock eat in shifts with one group feeding first and then moving out of the way for the next so that they share what food there is between all of the birds in a flock.

Waxwing Passing a Berry

When waxwings court each other, the male will pass a berry to the female and then she will pass it back to him. They will continue to pass this berry back and forth numerous times; this may help to strengthen the bond that the pair share with each other.

Related Internet Links:
Christine Cassidy Facebook
British Trust for Ornithology
Waxwings UK – a Twitter page for Waxwing sightings

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