Sunday 26 November 2023

A waxwing winter

Well what a super Waxwing invasion! An early spread of birds from mid-October including down into England and over to the west and right down to the south west suggested it was going to be a big one. Now flocks of 100s and up to 1,000 have confirmed this.

Over 100 have been ringed on Shetland and also on Orkney, where 69 of them have also been colour-ringed. 224 have been colour-ringed in NE Scotland in Elgin, Banchory and Aberdeen. We would be very grateful to all observers and photographers if they could report any colour ringed birds they might see or find on their photographs. Some birds are on the move down the country already, continuing their search for rowans and other berries, whilst others have settled down a bit. We have been receiving lots of sightings already. Thank you very much.

A bird ringed in Finstown, Orkney on 29th October was photographed by Stuart McMahon and Steve Clarke in Saltcoates, Ayrshire on 10th November.

Juvenile female Waxwing Orange/Orange/Yellow ringed in Finstown, Orkney on 29th October and photographed by Stuart McMahon and Steve Clarke (shown) in Saltcoates, Ayrshire on 10th November.

Juvenile male Waxwing Green/Red/Red basking in the Aberdeen sun on 6th November (Mark Sullivan) the day after ringing nearby.


From a catch of 38 in Aberdeen on 5th November so far colour-ringed birds have been photographed in Dunblane on 12th November by Gillian Baird, Glasgow on the 16th by Stuart Watson and Newcastle on the 17th by Mike Carr while one was retrapped still in Aberdeen on the 22nd. 

Juvenile female Waxwing Light Green/Blue/Red basking in the Dunblane sunshine on 12th November (Gillian Baird)

Adult male Waxwing Green/Green/Red basking in the Glasgow sun on Possil Road on 16th November (Stuart Watson).

Juvenile male Waxwing Red/Orange/Orange basking in the Newcastle sun in Benton on 17th November (Mike Carr).

2 others ringed on the 4th and 8th were resighted by Ian Rendall in a flock of 60 25kms out of town in rural Banchory on 15th. One of these was photographed 5 days later in Errol, Perth & Kinross 85kmSW by Christine Hall who then on going to see another flock at Invergowrie in Dundee on the same day photographed another colour-ringed bird, this time from Elgin ringed on the 13th

And Red/White/Orange in Musselburgh on 21st surely photographed at a distance of 1m by Len Hunter?!

Juvenile male Waxwing Red/White/Orange photographed in Musselburgh on 21st November (Len Hunter)

A Finnish ringed bird has had its ring partially read from photographs in Kirkwall, Orkney but efforts to catch it have so far proved unsuccessful.

It is both fascinating and exciting to follow the movements of these irruptive winter visitors when we are lucky enough to have an invasion but it’s not so good news for them. They have vacated their breeding areas to find a lack of berries and so have had to make a sea crossing into unknown territory (for most of them) in search of food. Fortunately many of our towns and cities have large amounts of ornamental rowan trees which attract and support these hungry birds but this comes at a cost. A lot of them have never come across houses and windows (and bus shelters) before! Along with other urban hazards such as traffic, cats and sparrowhawks mortality is quite high.


Window strike fatalities are particularly common. We have heard of 19 so far this invasion in Aberdeen and Banchory. The photos show a rather innocuous yellow rowan tree beside houses in Kincorth, Aberdeen. A flock of up to 100 birds were coming into feed on it when we found it and despite birds usually flying out the opposite way to rest in taller trees 3 dead birds were found below the windows to the left. The occupant was disappointed to hear about this and her upstairs windows now have large black bird silhouettes on them. Maybe too late for this winter but we’ll alert her in future winters if the Waxwings come back.

When you arrive at a typical site such as this rowan tree in the street do have a look around for nearby obvious house windows reflecting back trees and/or sky. Have a word with the owners who perhaps could open or shut blinds/curtains to reduce this reflection. Or even better silhouette shapes or anything dark/matt. It will only be required for a short period of time (a few days maximum?) as Waxwings are like locusts and all the berries will soon be gobbled up and the birds will move on. 

Local wildlife rescue New Arc have also highlighted the issue of window strikes recently:


Please try and be a step ahead and take action, and spread awareness of how to protect these birds.


Here's hoping we’ll post again soon with more colour ring sightings from observers and photographers helping us to follow the Waxwings fortunes and movements throughout the country.

We’ll also describe how a Waxwing in the hand is worth two in the bush: As their moult reveals just how abruptly some of these birds have had to leave home to find food. And their unique plumage features sometimes enables us to pin point which bird it is when colour ring reports are uncertain. Just what are the Waxwings favourite berries? And has Elgin taken over from Aberdeen as the new Waxwing capital?

Grampian Ringing Group

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