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.

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