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Flipping brilliant: winter waxwings are here

Last modified: 17 November 2012

Waxwing feeding on rowan berries in Hull

Waxwing in Hull

Image: Richard Willison

This waxwing, spotted casually flicking a rowan berry into the air, was among a flock of more than 350 of the birds that descended on a supermarket car park on Hessle Road in Hull this week.

At this time of year, large flocks of waxwings come to the UK from Scandinavia looking for berries.  If there is a particularly  poor food supply or harsh weather in Scandinavia then more of the birds arrive than usual, and this year is looking like it could be a particularly bumper year.

This waxwing was photographed by RSPB member Richard Willison who said; “It was great seeing so many waxwings in one place.  More and more of them arrived over a couple of days at the car park; in one photo I counted 365 of them.  They don’t linger for long though, and once the area was stripped of berries they moved on.”

Ben Andrew, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, said “Waxwings are such colourful birds with a perky crest, which makes them stand out.  Because they are winter visitors most of us are probably not as familiar with them as we are with our resident birds, so that just adds to the excitement when they do start to arrive.

“Waxwings often travel in flocks and move around together, taking advantage of a good food source and then moving on. They are not fussy about where they eat and it’s quite common to see them in town centres or supermarket car parks, or pretty much anywhere that there are suitable berries like rowan, hawthorn and cotoneaster.”

This year has been a mixed one for natural food sources with some varieties of fruits having a particularly poor season.   Sloes, apples, pears and the berries of rowan and hawthorn have been reported to be less abundant than usual in parts of the country.  That means less food for wildlife including migrant birds like waxwings.

Ben continues; “If there is not enough food to go around then they’ll keep moving and leave the UK to extend their search into parts of mainland Europe.”

Putting fruit in the garden could be a help to waxwings if natural sources do run out.  Try spiking a pear on a stick or threading fruit slices on a string and dangling from tree branches.  Fatballs and good quality bird food in the garden can be a big help to other birds too at this time of year.  Find out how to do more at and register now to take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2013 at

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Find out which birds were the movers and shakers in this year's Big Garden Birdwatch charts.

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