Trilling in the Treetops

This winter has seen a mini “invasion” of Waxwings into Scotland. These exotically coloured Starling-sized birds breed in remote birch and spruce forests of northern Scandinavia. In winter they feed on berries – especially rowans. In some years the berry crop in Scandinavia fails, leading to a mass migration of Waxwings across the North Sea.

Waxwings can be remarkably tame, often drawing attention to themselves by their high-pitched trilling calls as they sit in the tree-tops in the winter sun, digesting their last meal. They are similar in size and flight to Starlings, but their plumage is a much paler buff-brown. Their name comes from small red wax-like tips to some of their wing feathers, seen in no other birds. Most striking of all is a large crest on the crown which is raised upwards when the birds are excited.

Waxwings queue up in a willow tree in a Dunblane street – Image by Fiona Morton

Up to 100 have been seen in Dunblane so far this winter – mostly associated with berry bearing rowans. Red-berried native rowans are their favourites, but most of these will have been eaten by thrushes, Bullfinches and Woodpigeons by the time the Waxwings arrive. However the ornamental rowan berries (yellow “Joseph Rock” (such as those just up the road from Tescos) and pink berried “Pink Pagoda”) are less preferred by our native birds, so there are usually plenty of these left for the Waxwings to feast on. They are very agile birds and can reach the berries on the outermost twigs that the other birds can’t reach! If you have a rowans with berries near you – keep your eyes (and ears) open for these lovely birds.

Clive McKay, Dunblane Wildlife

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