The na­ture of things

Waxwings

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston

THE first frosts have ar­rived and also—blown in from the cool­ing, conif­er­ous Taiga forests of north-east­ern Europe and Scan­di­navia—the first waxwings. Bird­watch­ers tweet with ex­cite­ment at early sight­ings of these hand­some crea­tures; the so­cia­ble birds an­nounce them­selves with a soft, tin­kly trilling.

Sev­eral fac­tors in­flu­ence how many come to our shores. Rowan berries are their favourite late-sea­son fare, but a crop fail­ure at home may send them south-west­wards to us. How­ever, a re­ally boun­ti­ful year for the berries can re­sult in a pop­u­la­tion ex­plo­sion, again forc­ing nat­u­ral dis­per­sion of flocks to pas­tures new. Upon ar­rival here—first sight­ings tend to be along the east­ern seaboard, from Scot­land down to the Ken­tish coast—they will find a smor­gas­bord of del­i­ca­cies in planted habi­tats, from gar­dens to car parks. Berries of guelder rose (Vibur­num op­u­lus), species roses, co­toneaster, pyra­can­tha, hawthorn, ap­ple and crab ap­ple are all grist to the bill.

How to recog­nise Bom­by­cilla gar­ru­lus? It looks like a large, chubby finch. The small, stubby tail is dipped in black, but dabbed yel­low at the tip; the body and wing area are shades of beige, but high­lighted with flashes of black, white, yel­low and tiny dabs of red on the wing feath­ers; and all topped off by a gor­geous, ru­fous quiff, brushed back above the black eye-mask. KBH

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