Ah... the waxwing, is there a more beautiful winter visitor? Prompted by today's generous smattering of snow, and the discovery of this gorgeous photo sitting in the Nature’s Home inbox, this week's blog is all about these exotic looking visitors from the north and their endless quest for berries... (photo courtesy of Nature's Home reader, Fred Chapman).
To talk of the waxwing, first we need to understand their behaviours and migratory patterns. If you thought that you could catch a glimpse of these fantastic birds here in the UK all year round, I'm afraid you'd be mistaken. These little beauties are Nordic navigators - they spend much of the year in their favoured breeding grounds of Scandinavia, Russia and across parts of North America; known as the boreal forest belt.
Forever on the hunt for their next bite to eat (or gulp in the case of a waxwing!) they head to our northern and eastern shores during the winter months, when our trees and bushes our laden with the 'berry hunters' favourite food. When stocks run dry, they may move further inland to browse our native rowan trees. Other favourites include native and non-native Sorbus berries including rosehips, hawthorn and cotoneaster. It is also said that waxwings are partial to fruiting trees like apple, pear and damson - so you may get lucky if you have any of these in your garden.
On the topic of lucky, back in 2017, UK birders were treated to an influx of waxwing numbers, and this didn’t go unnoticed in the Big Garden Birdwatch results. Tens of thousands descended on the east coast as berry yields on the continent failed. This natural phenomenon (known as 'irruption') happens every 6-8 years and is the result of a plants' natural cycle to produce little to no fruit after a heavy production the previous year. We all need a rest sometimes, and trees are no exception, which is bad news for the waxwing, but a great treat for us! Read more about our 'Waxwing Winter' here.
In normal years, waxwing visitations are unpredictable to say the least, ranging in size from just a handful to many thousands. Waxwings eat on average 800-1000 berries a day and during the summer months, their usual food includes insects (mosquitos and midges a particular favourite), tree buds and certain flowers. You can see them feasting on their favourite food in this video below - and check out that crest!
As we prepare to bid farewell to our berry hunters for yet another year (October - April), there's plenty of things you can do to improve your chances of finding a group in your garden next year, or even attract a large flock during an irruption year. Either way - it's time to get planting those berrylicious bushes! For more information on tree planting, visit Grow a tree for wildlife. For further ID and behavioral information, visit our Bird A-Z.
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