Friday 16 November 2012

A Waxwing Year? The Return of the Bohemian Chatterer

Waxwings, AKA Bohemian Chatterers, at the Village Hall, Huttons Ambo

I was walking past the village hall when I heard a high pitched trilling sound and saw a small flock of colourful birds in the trees next to the village hall. At first I thought they were jays, but jays are skittish woodland birds and these seemed quite unafraid. In fact they were brave enough to wait while I fiddled around and changed lenses and took a few pictures.

A bit of research immediately showed them to be Waxwings. Waxwings aren't native to Britain: they breed in arctic and subarctic countries but in certain years when their population exceeds the local food supply then they migrate to Britain, in search of their favourite food, rowan and hawthorn berries.   These occasional invasions are known as 'Waxwing Years', the earliest on record was in winter 1679-1680 and the biggest on record was in 1965-1966 when it is thought 11,000 waxwings may have arrived in Britain.

Waxwing in flight, showing yellow fringe to tail and waxy red blobs at the tips of flight feathers (upper wing)
Waxwings are attractive little chestnut coloured birds, with a quirky little crest of feathers, a yellow fringe to their tails and little waxy red blobs at the tips of their flight feathers.  Their official name is 'Bombycilla garrulus' but they also go by the delightful moniker of 'Bohemian Chatter', because of the chattering noise they make in the breeding season.

The birds here in Huttons Ambo and elsewhere in Yorkshire have probably flown over from Finland and are making a temporary stop before moving further inland in search of winter berries, so make the most of your chance to see them.

Field Guide to the Birds of Britain, Readers Digest
RSPB Bird Index

All material © Philip Stone 2012

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