WAXWING (Bombycilla garrulus)


These stunning irruptive winter visitors arrive in the UK when berry crops in Russia and Fennoscandia run low. If berries remain plentiful in their breeding grounds then very few birds will make the trip to our shores. While they can turn up anywhere in the UK, they are most common along the East Coast, often seen in large flocks around Rowan trees, in parks, gardens, and towns. Despite annual variation in numbers, Waxwings are green-listed in the UK.

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Estimated number of winter visitors: 10,000

Listen to Waxwing song:


The waxing is one of the UK’s most exotic-looking birds with its beautiful colouration and feathery crown. This plump bird has reddish-brown backs, grey rumps, black wings with white bars, and a black tail with a yellow tip. They have a pale/buff breast and a black bib and throat. Their heads are a reddish brown with a  prominent crest, black mask, and red colouration on the cheek.

Average Length: 18 cm

Average Lifespan: 3 years.

Average Wingspan: 32 - 35 cm

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Waxwing diet

During the winter waxwings eat mainly berries and fruit but will eat invertebrates during the breeding season. Waxwings will often venture into gardens looking for fruit so planting Rowan or hawthorn trees or hanging apples will attract these birds.

Waxwing Breeding and nesting information

Waxwings do not breed in the UK, instead, they return to Fennoscandia to breed. They breed relatively late, not laying eggs until late May. 3-7 eggs are laid in an open cup-shaped nest and incubated by the female for 14 days before they hatch while the male feeds her. Both parents feed the chicks for 15-17 days until they leave the nest. As they start breeding late they only produce one brood before the breeding season ends in July.

Threats to Waxwings

Waxwings are green-listed and face no immediate conservation threats. They are hardy birds and do not respond to harsh winters in the same way as some of our other winter visitors. As their breeding grounds are often further north than any dense human populations, human disturbance, and habitat destruction during the breeding season are limited. As frugivores, they have high daily water requirements and ingestion of road salt through drinking of melt water could lead to poisoning.

How you can help

Plant autumn/winter berry bushes such as Rowan and Hawthorn in your garden.

Provide a plentiful supply of water throughout the winter.  

Remove rotting or fermenting fruit from your garden.

Fascinating Fact

As waxwings consume such a high quantity of fruit, there is evidence that they can become intoxicated from eating large amounts of fermenting fruit and berries.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Bombycilla garrulus. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/bohemian-waxwing-bombycilla-garrulus. Accessed: 31/10/2023.

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Waxwing | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/waxwing. Accessed: 31/10/2023.  

Dale, S. (2023). Irruptions of Bohemian Waxwings in relation to population density and food availability. Journal of Ornithology, 164(4), 887–899. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-023-02083-7.  

RSPB (2023) Waxwing, RSPB. Available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/waxwing. Accessed: 31/10/2023

Topper, T. (2010). Suspected road salt poisoning in Bohemian Waxwings Bombycilla garrulus (Aves: Passeriformes: Bombycillidae). Vertebrate Zoology, 60(2), 171-174.  

Woodward,I., Aebischer, N., Burnell, D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D.A.& Noble, D. (2020). Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and theUnited Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104. https://britishbirds.co.uk

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