Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Waxwing At Last!

All I wanted for Christmas...was a Waxwing...but I was disappointed! Several times, during December, I spent time locally, following up reports of sightings of small flocks of these much sought after and charismatic birds. The last time there was an irruption of Bohemian Waxwings in the UK in the Winter of 2010/11 many, if not most, of my blogland birding friends were lucky enough to see them but sadly I missed out completely so when it became clear, late last year, that this was to be another 'Waxwing Winter' I was determined to make a concerted effort to try and find them.

Bohemian Waxwing

'But, oh! my spirit burned within, 
My heart beat full and fast!
He came not nigh—he went away— 
And then my joy was past.'
(Acton Bell)

Irruptions of birds occur when the food source in their own area is scarce. Waxwings feed primarily on berries and fruit and the crop there this year was poor. Consequently large numbers arrived in the UK (probably not as many as 2010/11) hoping to take advantage of the bounty here. Unfortunately though our own berry crop has also been poor this time and many of the larger flocks (their preferred way to travel around) of Waxwings have broken up and formed much smaller groups, flying further away from the east coast and across the country in search of dwindling supplies of berries. They will take insects on the wing if available but as I said their preference is berries, Rowan, Hawthorn, Pyracantha etc. They will also eat apples and since late Autumn I have been spearing them onto the branches of trees in my garden in the hope of attracting some but with no luck so far.

My quest to find them before Christmas was not to be. I always managed to just miss them. Most of these sightings were only a matter of four or five minutes' drive away so when, a couple of days before the recent snow arrived, I read more reports of a very small group being sighted in the same area, the hunt was on again. I was scanning the sides of the road for any likely trees or hedges but there really were very few berries to be seen. As we passed one tree I did a double take when I spotted a bird high in the branches but decided it was probably a Starling particularly as I was really looking for a small group of birds rather than just one.

 'Powerful was the beauty of these birds.
It boomed like a struck bell in the silence deep and hot.'
(Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Carrying on searching around the area produced nothing at all and as it was getting late and the light was starting to fail I decided to call it a day. Going back the way we had come I again spotted, high in a different tree, a Starling sized bird...with an unmistakeable crest!! I had found my first ever Waxwing :-) which I think probably was the same bird I had seen earlier. It may only have been one but how thrilled I was! I took a silly amount of photos knowing it was a difficult subject with it being late in the day and as usual not really close enough for my 50-250mm lens. After that I just enjoyed watching it for a while through the binoculars.

Bohemian Waxwings are so called due to their presumed origins from Bohemia and habit of travelling in nomadic flocks. Waxwing refers to the wax like tips on the ends of the secondary feathers which resemble drops of sealing wax. Males which show more red wax are preferred by females. As I have mentioned they normally travel together, usually in flocks of around 50-300 but sometimes in excess of 3,000! When feeding in flocks they will eat in shifts, one group at a time, so that all get their fair share. They really are fascinating birds. When courting, male and female can be seen passing berries back and forth, often for quite prolonged periods. This behaviour has also been observed in social situations where a berry is passed back and forth along a whole row of Waxwings and very unusually they even practise their sharing ritual before fledging! There are no records of them breeding in the UK. Some birds have been observed in this country as late as early May. Their lifespan is around 5 years but there are records of them living until the age of 12.

'Trilling Bohemian waxwings.
Enhancing the winter fragrance of
a crab apple tree of frozen fruit.
Trilling in a most joyous song of
(Jim Smart)

The Latin name is Bombycilla Garrulus. Bombyx (silk) and cilla (tail) which refers to the bird's soft and silky plumage* and garrulus meaning noisy. Collective names for them are an 'earful' of Waxwings and a 'museum' of Waxwings. Old texts have described it as an 'un satiable' bird and a 'lazy and inert fellow whose only accomplishments are within the art of eating'! Given how far and wide they fly to search for food I don't agree with the view that it is 'lazy and inert'. However, it will eat its weight in food each day. Sometimes, when berries have fermented, this has unfortunate consequences causing them to fly in an unstable manner and making them vulnerable to predation and accident. The artist and naturalist John James Audubon would sometimes pick up drunken Waxwings from the ground to use in his illustrations.

 (John James Audubon's 'The Birds of America', 1827-1838.)

So, although I didn't get a Waxwing for Christmas I did get one for the new year. I would love to have seen more than one, to have been closer, for there not to have been twigs in the way and to have seen it earlier in the day when conditions were better but I did see one and that's what really matters :-)

Until the next time...enjoy the beauty of Nature, wherever you are.

* I am indebted to Marianne for the following extra information:

'The idea that 'cilla' means 'tail' comes from a misunderstanding of the scientific name of the wagtail genus, Motacilla. This means 'little mover' (the 'illa' part being a diminuitive), but was taken by some writers, undertandably enough, to mean 'moving tail'. As a result, 'cilla' has since been used to mean 'tail' in several scientific names, including Bombycilla, but really Bombycilla would mean 'little silky thing'.'


  1. congratulations! the few times they appear here on their winter passing-through, it is always a gray, somber day with no chance for good photos! congrats on blue sky and sunlight!

  2. Ooooooooooooh, I'm so envious Songbird! I'd love a waxwing Photo, well done to you though, must have made you a very happy bunny :-)

  3. TexWisGirl

    Thanks you Theresa. It was a thrill! I even used to dream about them :-)

    Warren Baker

    Thanks Warren :-) Funnily enough when I first drafted the post I actually put that I was a very happy bunny but it got changed somewhere along the way....I definitely was though :-)

  4. I have still to see even one! How lucky you were, I should have been so happy to be there. You must be thrilled to have pictures of it.

    Have you seen the images that Matt Latham has added to his blog?

  5. Congratulations!!! I still have not seen one, apparently there was a small flock of Waxwings around here where I live but could not find them. Well done for capturing one:)

  6. Jemiołuszki są śliczne i u nas też fruwają. Niestety nie widziałam nawet jednego od dość dawna. Ciesz się więc, że zobaczyłaś tego jednego i do tego świetnie o nim napisałaś. Pozdrawiam cieplutko.
    Waxwings are beautiful and also fly with us. Unfortunately, I have not seen even one for a long time. Enjoy, then, that you saw this one and to that great about it wrote. Regards warm.

  7. Toffeeapple

    Thank you very much Toffeeapple. I was so pleased to get one after all my efforts and disappointments. I have just checked out the link you kindly left, wonderful images, I would love to have got those :-)

    Linda Yarrow

    Thank you Linda. I hope you catch up with them soon, it is such a thrill when you do :-)


    Thank you Giga, Yes they really are beautiful. I was so thrilled and it was fun to research their behaviour too :-)
    Dziękujemy Giga, Tak naprawdę są piękne. Byłem tak podekscytowany i to było zabawne badać ich zachowanie zbyt :-)

  8. Great captures Jan.
    So glad you finally got see this beautiful bird. They really are special.
    Great post.

  9. Hi Jan... WOW I am so thrilled for you...I know the feeling. it happens every time I see them !! It is like a wondrous privilege!! : )
    Perhaps you will get a chance to see a flock of them "hope-hope-hope"
    Good thing you kept you eyes on the lookout!!
    Your photos just awesome : )!!
    ♥ Grace

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. I am as jealous as it is possible to be! I haven't seen a waxwing since I was 6.

    Our friends spotted them in our village in December and when I mentioned this to our builders, they told me that some birds they didn't recognise, had stripped our hawthorn earlier that week.

    I am so glad you finally saw one, but I am also as sick as a parrot!

  12. Excellent post Jan,
    With all my years of experience you have got one up one me. It is one of the few birds missing from my files. I learned more about the waxwing reading you post than I learned in a lifetime.

  13. Hi Jan - So pleased you finally managed to find a Waxwing - finding your own is something rather special :) I thought the photos you took were great and so lucky to get the blue skies.

    I had to smile at your descriptions of looking for them in December - it reminded me so much of all my fruitless quests for them :) So glad we have now both seen this species - any other sightings will be a real bonus :)

    Thanks so much for all the information on Waxwings - I learnt such a lot and loved the names for a group of them :)

    Another one of your wonderful posts Jan with lovely photos, great words and poems :)

  14. Well done Jan! They say good things come to those who wait! Lovely photos of a stunning bird! :)
    Follow me at HEDGELAND TALES

  15. Happy for you Jan! (-: What a thrill realising what you were seeing at long last! YOu got some lovely shots even if the light was falling. Twigs! Don't talk to me about twigs! The bane of our lives! (-:

  16. Congratulations on spotting them Jan. It's a bird I've never seen, and would love to before they head off again. Some great photos too, you really captured the colour of those birds. Its always so satisfying to see something just as you're about to give up searching for it. Seems to happen so often as well :)

  17. Brilliant Jan, just brilliant – I am delighted for you :-)

    Although I’ve seen good sized groups from my garden in distant mature trees I’d love to get close up photo opportunities and am quite envious of your wonderful photos (I’d take a silly amount too). They are bigger than you’d think aren’t they? I’m not surprised you never guessed you’d see a single one – easy done. My tip for seeing a group is to use your ears, if you’re in the car driving around have your windows down – the sound they make is great. I first heard them before I saw them as I walked around my garden trying to work out which direction the car alarm sound was coming from – there was a group of 40-50. I’ll never mistake that sound again and I hope you get to hear it too :-D

    Great post of background on this fascinating bird – I don’t think they are lazy either. Well done :-D

  18. Congrats on your Bohemian Waxwing sighting. They are beautiful birds. I have only seen the Cedar Waxwings here. Lovely post and photos. Have a happy day!

  19. Congrats Jan ... a fabulous post.

    I can remember my first sighting back in 2001 when we had 5 at Wisley and I watched one being ringed.

  20. Marvellous. Well done Jan.
    It surprising how big they are when you see them for real.

  21. holdingmoments

    Thank you Keith, They certainly are very special :-)

    grammie g

    Thank you very much Grace :-) I have always been envious of your sightings and of course you have even had them in your garden, I would love that!

    The Gardening Shoe

    Thank you, Oh, my goodness! I can imagine how you felt when the builders told you that. How did you resist taking a brick to them for not telling you at the time?? ;-)

    Mike Attwood

    Thank you Mike for your lovely comment, that's very kind of you. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you add one to your files very soon :-)

  22. HAPPY SMILE for you Jan, glad you got your Bird! The snaps you took of him are just awesome your muse.

  23. ShySongbird ,
    Well done indeed .
    It must have been hard for you reading other blogs quoting large numbers of Waxwings seen , but your perserverence paid off in the end , and you were able to post your own bird , in your own inimitable way .
    Now you've broken your duck , I hope it will be several at least next time .

  24. Well what can one say Jan, congratulations, Brilliant, Wonderful, Super the list goes on, but nothing comes close to seeing your first Waxwing and I am delighted for you.
    We all have our bogie birds, mine is the Yellowhammer, yes I have seen them but I really want some photos of them, but they are a bit scarce down here.
    Anyway well done and superb images as well.

  25. I'm so pleased you found one and got some great pics too! Excellent stuff and a very informative read as always :-)

  26. Ragged Robin

    Hi Caroline :-) Thank you for your lovely comments. Yes, I was so pleased to finally see one, it had been a real game of cat and mouse for weeks! As you say, any more for us both, will be a bonus now...I would love some better photos though, I've always been envious of your header:-) So pleased you enjoyed the info, I do enjoy putting that together :-)


    Thank you John, It certainly was worth the wait :-)


    Thank you Jenny, It definitely was a huge thrill! Your twig remark made me laugh :-) Photographing wildlife, birds especially must be the most frustrating hobby!


    Thank you Joe :-) I was so disappointed not to see them in 2010/11 when everyone else seemed to so was so relieved to at least see one this time. I do hope you see them before too long also Yes, I have had some of my best sightings at the end of a walk...usually in bad light!

  27. Congratulations!!! Your excitement is quite obvious in your writing. Isn't it thrilling to find the bird after waiting and waiting and waiting??:) I have yet to see this bird this year. I'm hoping February brings me lovely views as they seem to pass through our area at this time to eat the fruit off of our Palm Trees. However no Bohemian variety. Such beautifully masked birds. They are not lazy at all but they do get "drunk" quite often:)

  28. Great pics Jan and a beautifully described and informative post as always :-)

    I too spent many years being frustrated by this particular species so I can fully appreciate your happiness in finding one at last :-)

  29. Shirley

    Thank you very much Shirley :-) Yes, I was looking forward to hearing the twittering but it wasn't to be...maybe in the future. A group of 50-60 must have been wonderful even if distant. I hope you get some closer views eventually. Glad you enjoyed the info, it was fun researching it.


    Thank you Eileen :-) We don't see the Cedar Waxwings here. They are both beautiful birds. Wishing you a lovely weekend.


    Thank you Frank :-) It must have been interesting to watch the ringing although I admit I am a little uncomfortable about catching and ringing...I do realise that a lot of valuable information has been gained in that way though.

    Roy Norris

    Thank you Roy, They really are magnificent looking birds :-)

  30. Sondra

    Thank you Sondra, you're very kind :-)


    Thank you Greenie, Yes it was very frustrating not to see even one for so long, so I was thrilled with this sighting. Hopefully I may see more in the future. I would love to see them on berries, they always look so pretty like that.


    Hi Monty, thank you so much for your lovely, very generous comments :-) I have been keeping my fingers crossed for a long time that you will get some really good views of Yellowhammers. I know you have been hoping too, maybe soon, I do hope so!

    Alan Pavey

    Thank you for your kind comment Alan :-)

  31. I've been hoping too but to no avail. Congratulations! BEAUTIFUL photos.

  32. Well done on seeing the Waxwing, they are beautiful. Now, You will keep on and on, cheers Jan.

  33. Really pleased for you with your Waxwing sighting Jan! It was only a matter of time!

    Love the interesting information on the Waxwings and of course your splendid images Jan.

    I bet you are still smiling and rightly so!

  34. Congratulations on not only seeing a waxwing, but for taking such detailed photos and writing a lovely tribute to this special bird. Really enjoyed learning more about them. Fascinating creatures :)

  35. Rohrerbot

    Thank you Chris, Yes, it was exciting, I had waited a long time for that sighting :-) I assume then that it is the Cedar Waxwings you see there, they are lovely too but we don't see those here at all. I hope you do get to see them in February! I have seen 'drunken' bees before but never drunken birds so far ;-)

    Wold Ranger

    Thank you very much for your kind words David :-) Frustration was definitely the word especially as so many other people seemed to be finding them so easily!

    Em Parkinson

    Thank you very much Em :-) I do hope you get to see these lovely birds before too long!

    Bob Bushell

    Thank you Bob, Yes, they really are beautiful, so striking. I hope I get to see more eventually :-)

  36. Well done Jan, you've done it at last!'ve seen a real live Waxwing!...if it was anything like the first time I saw them you must have been held spellbound, I know I was...they're such beautiful and stunning birds to see. And you can't help but take loads of photographs!..there's something about them that just compels you to keep on clicking away!!

    Great shots and a super informative post...[;o)

    ps. sorry for the late comment, I've been a bit lethargic and off colour for the last couple of approaching cold I think!

  37. Wow, Songbird, lovely photos, so pleased you found yourself a Waxwing :)

    Here's a little fact about the scientific name. The idea that 'cilla' means 'tail' comes from a misunderstanding of the scientific name of the wagtail genus, Motacilla. This means 'little mover' (the 'illa' part being a diminuitive), but was taken by some writers, undertandably enough, to mean 'moving tail'. As a result, 'cilla' has since been used to mean 'tail' in several scientific names, including Bombycilla, but really Bombycilla would mean 'little silky thing' :)

  38. Brilliant Jan. Well persevered. Maybe if I start dreaming about them I will get to see one ;)

  39. Here I am quite a bit jealous though. What a beautiful series of Waxwings. Also very good information that I get a lot to learn.
    Greetings, Helma

  40. Pam

    Thank you for your very kind comment Pam, So pleased you enjoyed the info. Yes, smiling from ear to can uncross everything worked!! ;-)


    Thank you Glo, you're very kind :-) They really are fascinating and lovely birds.

    The Herald

    Hi Trevor, Thank you very much for the kind words :-) Yes, they really are stunning birds, magical somehow and very exotic looking too with the crest.
    Sorry to read you are feeling under the weather :-( I hope you feel much better soon.


    Thank you Marianne and for the extra, interesting info. I have added a footnote to the post :-)

  41. Bohemian and Cedar Waxwings are especially striking looking birds! Congratulations on finally spotting the Bohemian Waxwing. Wonderful post filled with interesting information and stunning photographs! I've got my fingers crossed that I will be able to view one of these beauties in person some day. Lovely!

  42. Midmarsh John

    Thank you John, I though once I had seen one I would stop dreaming about them but it has happened again since :-) I hope you get to see one soon!


    Thank you Helma. They really are magnificent birds to see and well worth the wait :-)

    Julie G

    Thank you Julie, Striking is certainly the right description. I have only seen the Cedars in photos as we don't have them here at all. I shall cross my fingers in the hope you see either the Bohemians or Cedars very soon...or perhaps both!! :-)

  43. Brilliant shots, Shy. Great to catch up with this beauty. We had an influx here in December, but they seem to now have departed.

  44. Thank you for your kind words on the blog as I was ill a long time and now I come to myself.

  45. What a joy to see these wonderful birds! I've only seen a flock of cedar waxwings once, while hiking along the shore in Massachusetts one summer! I was mesmerized and spent a good hour observing and photographing them! Thanks for sharing the Bohemian!

  46. Jeremy

    Thank you Jeremy, I heard Wales had seen quite a few of them. I read they were heading away from the UK again now. I don't think our berry crop has been as good as it could have been this time unfortunately.

    Agata G

    Tak się cieszę, czujesz się lepiej teraz Agata :-)


    Thank you Barbara, I would love to have seen a flock of them...maybe next time :-) We don't see the Cedars here. I hope you get to see a Bohemian eventually.

  47. Hi Jan,

    Congrats on the Waxwings! :)

    So far I haven't seen/heard any at all. Normally I would as Sheffield often gets them in fairly high numbers and previously I've heard them in the area flying over quite a lot.
    Oh well, maybe another year.

  48. Hello dear, has hecho un trabajo maravilloso. Tus fotografias son siempre excelentes y no dejan de impresionarme. Las fotos tienen una composicion y colores excelentes. Felicidades. Un abrazo.

  49. I am thrilled for you Jan, that after waiting for so long you finally saw and captured, a really good photo of the beautiful Bohemian Waxwing. I have never seen one myself, but I certainly found out a lot about them on your
    brilliant post. It was interesting to learn about the sharing of berries, and the reason why they are called Waxwings. Nice touch with the beautiful illustration also. A superb post!!
    Warmest regards

  50. Eva de deuñas

    Hola Eva, Muchas gracias por sus lindos comentarios, eres muy amable. fotografiar aves es muy difícil, pasan la mayor parte de su tiempo tratando de esconderse de mí ;-)


    Thank you very much Sonjia :-) It was lovely to see one at last. I wish I could have managed better photos but it was determined to stay by that twig. Maybe that wasn't such a bad thing though as if it had moved it might have flown even further from the camera! So glad you liked the inclusion of the illustration, I was pleased to find that.
    I also left a reply to your lovely comment on my last post.

  51. gwirrel

    Thank you Liz :-) Sorry your reply is out of sequence, I got in a muddle! I hope you do get to see them although I have read they are already starting to leave the UK. I think I was lucky to catch that one. The berry crop hasn't been too good here, it seems they have struggled everywhere this Winter!

  52. ShySongbird.
    Well done with finally getting your Waxwing, I am pleased for you. Nice photo's of them too.

  53. Ken

    Thank you Ken, it was a real thrill to see one at last :-)

  54. That is a "catch" I envy you!
    A very nice post with a beautiful drawing of the great J.-J. Audubon!

  55. I am so happy that you have finally caught up with waxwing this winter Jan. It's frustrating when you keep just missing things (I know its happened to me many times in the past).

    Stunning photos btw, the light is beautiful on them

  56. Noushka

    Thank you Noushka. I loved the illustration too.


    Thanks Pete. I'm very good at late myself!

    Jason K

    Thank you very much Jason :-) You kept telling me I would see one in the end...and you were right!

  57. Życzę szczęśliwych Walentynek. Pozdrawiam cieplutko.
    I wish you a happy Valentine's Day. Regards warm.

  58. Dear Jan
    Just a quick visit to say I was having some difficulty today with my post and withdrew the first photo I published. I can't ignore
    such kindness, and thank you for concern.

    Hope you had a lovely Valentine's Day:=)

  59. I'm glad you got your New Year's wish! Your photos are beautiful, and I enjoyed all the interesting tidbits of information about this bird. Waxwings are common in many parts of the U.S., but I've never seen one here either. We have had a new--to me--bird visiting us, though--a pair of tufted titmice have been frequent visitors.

    Thanks for including the Audubon illustration; I had forgotten how amazing his drawings are!

  60. Nice series of these waxwings, I photographed them too for the first time this year.

    Best regards,

  61. Giga

    Thank you Giga, I hope your day was enjoyable :-)
    Dziękujemy Giga, Mam nadzieję, że dzień był przyjemny


    Thank you Sonjia, I was just a little concerned that if you hadn't deliberately withdrawn it you might not be aware there was a problem for a while. Yes, thank you I had a nice day, I hope you did too and that you enjoyed the meal I know you were going to have :-)


    Thank you very much Rose. I waited a long time to see it so was thrilled when I did :-) I read you have them there and that you are lucky enough to have Cedars also. I do hope you get to see them one day. How exciting to have a new visitor, I have seen your pretty little Tufted Titmouse on other blogs from your part of the world, a delightful little bird! Thank you for visiting when I know you are very busy with your teaching at the moment, I hope it's going well :-)


    Thank you Ad. I'm glad you saw them too, they are such attractive birds!

  62. A beautiful bird~ Superb captures!

  63. I love the pictures of birds are loved greetings

  64. Friend of HK

    Thank you very much, it is indeed a beautiful bird :-)

    Codzienne życie Agaty

    Dziękuję bardzo Agata. Przesyłam Ci gorące pozdrowienia również :-)

  65. Very exciting and you got some great photos! I have only ever seen these once out back and a few when on holiday on the west coast.

  66. I'd love to see them once, congratulations on getting such nice photos!

  67. DeniseinVA

    Thank you Denise :-) They are lovely birds to see, I was so pleased to find one eventually.

    Friend of HK

    Thank you very much. I hope you get to see them one day :-)

  68. I finally saw the Cedar Waxwings here!!! Over one hundred of them!!! Very exciting finds. I just wanted to say hello again and see if you posted some fun. It looks cold on your side. Hopefully things will warm up.....soon.

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