Do watch out for distinctive Waxwings
THE WAXWING is a truly striking, pale reddish-buff, starling-sized bird that once seen at close quarters cannot be confused with any of the other bird species that frequents our shores. Thick-necked and compact in shape, these crested and colourful non-residents have been turning up all over Ireland recently. However, there is nothing unusual in that as varying numbers of them come here most winters.
Their home range is the coniferous belt in the extreme north of Europe extending eastwards across northern Russia. Depending on both the severity of the winter and the availability of food, birds from Scandinavia regularly move south-westwards into Scotland, England and Ireland. Very few come in some years; in other years large numbers arrive. When abnormally large numbers arrive the event is known as an ‘irruption' and the season gets flagged ‘a Waxwing year'.
2010 was the last Waxwing year we had in Ireland. This winter is shaping up to be possibly another Waxwing year so now is a good time to watch out for these striking birds as they enter gardens to feed on sugar-rich berries of trees and shrubs such as Rowan, Cotoneaster, Pyracantha, etc. An apple spiked on a tree branch is sure to attract Waxwings if they are around. And being from remote areas some of these birds are unused to and are therefore remarkably trusting of people when feeding and can be easily approached. Photographers are naturally delighted.
The current issue (No 39) of BirdWatch Ireland's eWings magazine features this winter's Waxwing irruption in detail and may be accessed under the ‘Publications' tab at http://www.birdwatchireland. ie/. The earliest report logged by BirdWatch Ireland was of a flock of 25 Waxwings seen on Tory Island, Co Donegal, on 29 October last. During November birds were turning up in all counties with flocks of more than 50 birds recorded in counties Antrim, Dublin and Wicklow. The highest count was of at least 400 Waxwings roosting in Lucan, Co Dublin, in midDecember.
The long, quill feathers that make up the ‘ hand' part of a bird's wing are known as ‘ primaries' and those behind them that make up the ‘forearm' are 'secondaries'. Unique to Waxwings, the secondaries are tipped with long, red, waxy appendages. When the bird is at rest with its wings closed these appendages on the secondaries rest on the primaries and hang like blobs of red sealing wax giving the bird its vernacular name ‘ wax-wing'. Do watch out for them.
2010 was the last Waxwing year we had in Ireland.