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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Waxwing

Hebrides Bird Sightings : Waxwings
Adult male Waxwing


(Bohemian Waxwing, Chatterer)

Bombycilla garrulus

Gaelic: Gochan cireaneach


Photograph © Grahame Thompson
Stornoway Castle Grounds - Isle of Lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
20th October, 2004

"This is a male, one of 4, I caught on the 20th October 04 in the Castle Grounds. 10 days later one of them was re-trapped in Aberdeen."

Grahame is one of two British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringers on the Isle of Lewis, he does the East side. His usual areas are the Castle Grounds and Aiginish, plus a whole heap of other sites depending on time of year and species!


Our Waxwing photographs

adult male
adult male


  • Waxwing
  • Bombycilla garrulus
  • Gaelic: Gochan cireaneach
  • UK: 100 birds (winter) BTO
  • UK: Winter visitor
  • WI: Scarce Winter Visitor (Very small numbers each year), very rare (5 or less records) spring vistor
  • Breeding: Nest high up in the branches of trees in mature coniferous forest & birch woodland. Mossy, damp, lichen-rich places. Lays 4 - 6 pale bluish eggs. Northern Scandinavia, Russia. Europe, North America
  • Winters: Not regular. South Europe, South USA
  • Diet: Berries, hawthorn, rowan, cotoneaster. Plant buds. (Breeding season also insects, midges & mosquitoes)
  • Exotic looking bird, reminiscent of a Cockatoo. Starling-sized (18 - 21cm length), but plump, stocky & thick-necked with a short tail. Large sandy-chestnut coloured crest. Very dashing black eye patch & black throat. Pinkish-brown above. Pale sandy-brown below.
    Lower back & rump (above tail) bluish. Undertail plumage chestnut-red. Yellow band at tip of short blackish tail. Dark wings with white bars, yellow markings & small waxy, red patch
  • Waxwings live for up to 12 years
  • Listen to a Waxwing (RSPB site). Call pleasant ringing trill, "srrrr" like a small bell
  • Similar birds: Hawfinch

Waxwings come to us for their food source. They eat berries, and can be found in the Western Isles on rowan, hawthorn, rosa rugosa, cotoneaster etc, anywhere that the Starlings and their like have not already cleared. In winter waxwings also eat, fruit and plant buds from trees and shrubs.


Generally the UK only gets about 100 Waxwings visit in the winter.

In some years the Waxwing come in large numbers, these are called irruptions, (irruption definition: to increase rapidly and irregulary in number) they happen when the numbers of Waxwings are too great for their usual feeding grounds.

The favourite food source of the Waxwing is the berries of the rowan tree. In a warm spring the rowan tree flowers abundantly, plus nestling Waxwings have a higher survival rate in a warm spring than in a cooler one. That abundance of rowan flowers sets to berries, producing a heavy crop and by winter there are more Waxwings than usual with plenty of food.

The rowan, like most trees has a cycle of producing seed, one year in perhaps a dozen it produces a larger quantity of seed than in the other years. This is usually followed by a year of poor seed production. The end result to the Waxwings is that there a larger quantity of them as usual and less food. They spread out from their usual feeding areas seeking it - this is an irruption.

We had an irruption of Waxwing in the Western Isles in the autumn of 2004.

There are an estimated 30,000 to 200,000 breeding pairs of waxwing in Europe.



Waxwing are quite shy in nature, alert birds, not easy to get near, but they are so exotic-looking, and photogenic, posing attractively along side bright berries, that a local photographer (who shall remain nameless!) super-glued bunches of red berries to bare branches, successfully setting the birds up for his photographs.

Since the late 1950's Waxwings have visited the Western Isles during most years during the autumn, before then the records were very few.

The call of the Waxwing is often described as a pleasant ringing trill, "srrrr" like a small bell, often with many birds calling together as the flock takes flight.


Waxwing records in the Western Isles

Scarce Winter Visitor (Very small numbers each year), very rare (5 or less records) spring vistor
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)

The chart below shows how abundant the bird is during a month or when you are more likely to see it.

















(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)

Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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