During irruptions, waxwings carry on moving through the winter as they deplete their food resources locally, and they are wanderers all year round, with little chance that they will return to the same areas where they were born in the following summer. This winter is going to be one of those irruption years, and the Waxwing invasion is well underway.
Waxwings are surprisingly small birds, similar in size to Starlings, to which they also resemble in flight, as they flock and have pointy, triangular wings. At close range there is no mistaking them, with their soft plumage, characteristic crest and 'zorro' mask. At even closer range, you might get to see the striking bright scarlet waxy drops and yellow streaks adorning their wings. They do look smart.
As most fruit eaters, Waxwings need to eat a large number of berries to survive - an estimation was double their body weight in berries. A flock can quickly strip down a tree. When not feeding, they like to sit atop trees, preening and just looking around, while constantly chattering, a pleasing cricket-like and jingly call.
A large flock of Waxwings resting and preening.
The top of this Rowan has already been stripped, but there are still plenty of berries at the bottom of the tree, which are harder to reach
A circling flock of Waxwings deciding where to stop
These three were looking up nervously, might well have been keeping an eye on the Sparrowhawk soaring above them.
The flock I was watching was resting on a Rowan tree and the birds were not quite daring to do to the bottom of the tree to start eating. They increased the rhythm of they calls like they were agreeing on something, and took to the wing. I am so pleased I finally managed to catch up with them. Bon voyage!
Barbara and David Snow (1988) Birds and Berries. T & AD Poyser. 268 pp.
Ian Newton (2006) Advances in the study of irruptive migration. Ardea 94, 433-460.
Koenig, W., & Knops, J. (2001). Seed-crop size and eruptions of North American boreal seed-eating birds Journal of Animal Ecology, 70 (4), 609-620 DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2656.2001.00516.x