A rare visitor calls

'My' lone waxwing eating cotoneaster berries

It was a cold winter’s day, when I saw an unusual bird on our telephone wire. It was a pinkish colour and had a crest of feathers standing up on its head. Other birds were mobbing it. Their loud calls attracted my attention. 

Eventually, the bird escaped to the woodland and landed on a secluded guelder rose bush. It ate a few red berries before flying away into the sunset towards a big supermarket car park.

The next day it was back, but this time it landed on our cotoneaster which was covered in bright berries. It began to devour them greedily and I watched from my bedroom window as it ate breakfast, lunch and dinner before flying off again into the setting sun. It repeated its activity for about a week. I was fascinated by this strange bird and noticed it had red tips to its wings and wondered if it had been hurt – perhaps by the other birds mobbing it. Was that blood on its wing?
No, this was a waxwing and the red is part of its normal colouring. Its wings look as if they have been dipped in sealing wax.

We had sealing wax at home, when I was a little girl, and we played with the solid red stick which was kept in my father’s desk. We melted it with a lighted match and watched the blood red drips.

I remember sealing wax in the post. Important letters used to come tied with string on the flap and sealed with red wax. There was usually an impressed stamp, so you could be sure that the letter was secure. Nowadays, we look for the lock sign on a web site to make sure our messages are safe.

That winter, a few years ago, I heard that a huge flock of waxwings was in the supermarket car park.  But my waxwing had come alone to us and I wondered if, as it was flying over our garden, it saw our berry trees. Then, as the others flew on, my waxwing fell behind. 
Perhaps it thought, ‘I will let the others go on ahead and I can drop down here and have the food all to myself’. It landed on our delicious food to feast undisturbed and unchallenged. 

This year, I have resorted to Twitter (where else would you look to find out about birds?) to see if anyone has noted them heading this way. On @WaxwingsUK you can find out where they are. They have been seen in the counties on the east coast. They have flown over from Scandinavia across the North Sea in search of food. Every movement is reported.

We have a lot to look forward to in the New Year even if the weather turns cold because then, you may see waxwings. Look anywhere where there are berries in gardens or supermarket car parks. They are a treat to watch all together, but if a greedy one sneaks away from the flock and comes alone, to feast here on our berries, I won’t report it. Its secret is safe with me, my lips will be sealed.

 (Adapted from my Nature Notes column)


  1. All my life I thought people were taking about celling wax, as a little boy I was very puzzled why Puff the Magic Dragon would want wax for his celling!

    Now whenever I see a wax wing I'm going to be thinking of sealing wax (and probably Puff the Magic Dragon too)!


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