Sunday, 23 January 2011

Save a Waxwing near you

Unfortunately waxwings are notorious for killing themselves against windows. In 2004, out of 87 dead waxwings reported from various sources in the UK, 66% were confirmed as window casualties, often with several reported together at any one site. The species feeding behaviour is its downfall. Flocks swarm into berries trees together for a rapid feeding frenzy then fly out, often low and very fast, back towards a nearby resting place in a high tree or TV aerial. If house windows or a bus shelter are nearby or, worse still, in between then this is when problems occur. Collisions seem to happen more often when it is bright and sunny, these conditions making the reflections in the glass or perspex much clearer.

This winter has been no exception with the usual spread of casualties as they make their way down through the country in search of berries. During the early part of the invasion in Scotland 16 were reported over a weekend in Inverness, with 6 of them against the (ehh hem) RSPB Office windows. 6 were reported in Elgin whilst in Aberdeen at one traditional site 9 were picked up by local postman Derek Beverley over a period of a few weeks. 8 were recovered at this same site in 2008 (see below).

Waxwings gather on TV aerials before descending into the “waxwing graveyard” in Wallfield Crescent, Aberdeen to feed on rowan berries

All is not lost however and action can be taken in some situations to prevent such losses. In and around Aberdeen we have most of the berry sites mapped out and we have managed to get folk to keep their blinds down at one or two sites when the waxwings are around .

Blinds drawn at Hilton College, Aberdeen. There were lots of waxwings and windows but no casualties.

At one very traditional site a bus shelter was erected out on the street a few years ago but by the time we realized it was a hazard in 2008 (it was about 10 metres away from the feeding trees and screened to a certain extent by tree branches so the danger wasn’t immediately apparent, see photograph 4), 8 waxwings and even the resident mistle thrush had been found dead having collided with it. Posters were put up to prevent any further casualties that year. Thankfully this is the same bus shelter below in 2010 (see below)

The “blue” bus shelter in Aberdeen. One of the white berried rowan trees can be seen behind off to the left of the shelter in the photo below

The council were quite cooperative and spoke to the shelter maintenance company who then sprayed it this obvious turquoise colour to prevent further incident. Thank goodness they did because the same scenario occurred in 2010. Groups of up to 30 or 40 birds would fly rapidly out low from their bout of feeding to head back across the road to their resting trees. Thankfully they were able to see the blue sprayed perspex with the flock sometimes parting in two as it zipped round either side of the shelter and there were no casualties this year. Of course we also took advantage of this behaviour now and again and the birds would meet with a mist net on their way out and we managed to colour ring a good sample of birds before they finished the berries and moved on.

If you find a feeding flock of waxwings always check for dead birds below any nearby windows or bus shelters, particularly anything in line of flight between feeding and resting trees. Try to stick up temporary covers or blinds to block any glare but ultimately, in the case of bus shelters try to get them sprayed like the one in Aberdeen, or even moved. It is one of the hazards waxwings have to face when taking advantage of all the ornamental berry trees planted around our towns and cities. The only saving grace really is that the waxwings do not take long to strip the berry trees and move on before long, hopefully to a safer set of trees not so close to these alien human hazards that we have created.

Bob McGowan at the National Museum of Scotland would be pleased to receive any freshly dead waxwings corpses. I have kept a particularly smart adult male back in my freezer for stuffing to replace the fairy on the top of the tree next Christmas!

Raymond Duncan

(On behalf of Grampian Ringing Group)

1 comment:

  1. [IMG][/IMG]


    Two where spotted at the junction of Leeds Street and Scotland Road Liverpool Liverpool.