Waxwings hail chill wind

DIG out your thermals and make sure your car is topped up with anti-freeze. The winter of 2004/5 could be a real chiller – and don't take the weather forecasters' words for it.

DIG out your thermals and make sure your car is topped up with anti-freeze.

The winter of 2004/5 could be a real chiller – and don't take the weather forecasters' words for it.

There are signs from the animal kingdom that they are preparing for a harsh winter – and one of the most spectacular indications is a population explosion among waxwings.

The waxwing is a spectacular bird that normally lives in Scandinavia.

However every few years flocks of these attractive birds come over to Britain to try to find berries and other food.

This year thousands have arrived – they started in Scotland and have been working their way down the country, including rural areas of Norfolk and Suffolk.

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At the weekend a flock of about 100 set up temporary home in Bader Square, Martlesham.

It was here that local birdwatcher David Meldrum spotted them – and took this photograph which shows a waxwing in all its glory.

He is an accomplished amateur photographer and this picture of a waxwing in Martlesham comes a few months after he sent us a picture he had taken of a long-eared owl at Holbrook.

This year's invasion is believed to be the largest for more than 50 years – and waxwings traditionally herald cold weather on the way.

Star weatherman Ken Blowers said he did not know of any clear reason why their arrival should herald snow – except it does indicate a lack of food in their normal home.

"But the time I remember a huge number of these birds was in the autumn of 1962, a few weeks before the big freeze arrived in early 1963.

"At that time there were loads of waxwings in the Heath Road and Heath Lane area."

Waxwings have put in an appearance in other years – and almost always in large flocks, it is unusual to see a single bird on its own.

But usually their visits are much shorter – the waxwings first arrived in Britain last month – and they generally arrive towards the end of the winter when their food is running out, not so early in the season.

Chris Durdin from the RSPB said he would not guarantee a cold winter – the arrival of the birds could mean a combination of factors in their natural home.

"I know the old stories about waxwings, but I think the more likely reason for their arrival here is a combination of a good breeding season in Scandinavia and a shortage of berries there.

"Whatever the reason for their arrival, it is very good to see so many of these birds.

"Not only are they very attractive, they are also not too afraid of people – they don't mind feeding on berries while we watch them," he said.

Waxwing facts:

Waxwing

The waxwing is a plump bird, which is slightly smaller than a starling.

It has a prominent crest. It is reddish-brown with a black throat, a small black mask round its eye, yellow and white in the wings and a yellow-tipped tail.

It does not breed in the UK, but is a winter visitor, in some years in larger numbers, called irruptions, when the population on its breeding grounds gets too big for the food available.

Where does it live?

Breeding

Dense northern forests, with lichen-covered pines

Wintering:

Parks and gardens, even busy public places – anywhere where there are berry-bearing trees and bushes.

Where to see it:

The first British arrivals each winter are usually seen on the east coast from Scotland to East Anglia, but birds move inland in search of food, increasing the chances of seeing one inland.

What does it eat?

Berries, particularly rowan and hawthorn, but also cotoneaster and rose.

What does it sound like?

It makes a high-pitched, trilling 'sirrrrr', like a bell.

Source RSPB

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