Top Places to See Waxwings this Winter

While many of the United Kingdom’s birds head south during winter for more pleasant and warmer climates, the winter months see the return of waxwings.

Often called Bohemian waxwings, these striking birds visit the colder shores of the United Kingdom as early as October.

Once in the UK they make the most of the abundant food sources here.

Image by Ted Smith via Flickr

These birds typically arrive from Scandinavia where, as the weather plummets, their food sources dwindle.

Despite the United Kingdom having cold winters too, the weather here is not as harsh as in Scandinavia, making our trees, bushes and wilderness the perfect place for them to feed.

Waxwings are a colourful and welcoming sight on often grey and gloomy days.

While the birds typically arrive onto UK soil along the northern coasts, they can be found further inland as more and more arrive. Late 2023 and early 2024 is set to see the largest irruption of waxwings in recent history.

While waxwings do arrive in the UK every year, large irruptions of the species cause the period to be renamed as a waxwing winter.

Waxwings are only in the United Kingdom for a short period, so to help identify the best locations in the country to see waxwings here is a quick guide.

What do Waxwings look like?

Waxwings are similar in size to starlings and are frequently found in coastal areas of the UK durning the winter.

The best time of year to spot them is between early October and mid-December, as numbers tend to decrease gradually as the months progress.

The visiting population of waxwings has typically left UK shores by mid-March.

Waxwings are easily identifiable thanks to their striking appearance.

Waxwing Close Up
Image by StuartJPP via Flickr

Waxwings have bright red tips to their wing feathers, which resemble droplets of wax once used as a seal on paper.

Their bodies are typically plump and as well as their prominent red tips, their wings also feature orange and white feathers.

Waxwings are also easy to see thanks to their black mask around their eyes and bright yellow flare on their tail feathers.

It is easy to see waxwings in the UK as they are typically in large groups known as irruptions.

If you are struggling to visually spot waxwings, listen out for their call.

Identifying their call, which sounds like a small bell ringing, is a good way to help you see waxwings in winter.

What do Waxwings do in the UK?

Waxwings come to the UK to feed each year, however visiting numbers vary.

As their primary source of food runs out in Scandinavia the birds fly west in search of brightly coloured berries and Rowan trees.

The birds will then return home after the winter season to breed.

What do Waxwings eat?

Waxwings are partial to the bright red and orange fruits found on ornamental trees across the United Kingdom.

Many of these trees are in towns and cities as decorative foliage in parks and around car parking areas.

Additionally, waxwings can be found enjoying Rowan berries which are often planted on country lanes and around farms.

Waxwing Eating Berrys
Image by Normal West via Flickr

Rowan berries are a favourite berry of the waxwing, with many spending much of their time perched in these trees making Rowan’s a great place to start to see waxwings.

Waxwings also eat hawthorn, rose and cotoneaster berries.

If you want to attract waxwings to your garden, planting trees that fruit with red berries is a great way to encourage them during winter.

This is also a great way to attract other birds staying in or visiting the UK during the colder months.

Why do Waxwings come to the UK?

Waxwings arrive in the UK as early as October and typically spend the entire winter in the country, departing around April.

These colourful birds are typically from Scandinavia and Russia, and arrive in the UK in search of food.

As the supply of berries in their native countries runs out, the supply in the UK is often plentiful.

If the supply of berries across Europe and the UK is plentiful, the birds tend to stay longer.

After the food supply in the UK begins to dwindle you can see waxwings head back out over the North Sea.

They depart the UK as late as early March to return home to breed.

The Best Places to see Waxwings in Winter

Wherever you go this winter, the best places to see waxwings are those with a plentiful supply of berries.

Waxwings are partial to Rowan and other brightly coloured red and orange berry trees.

If you cannot reach one of the best places to see waxwings, it is still possible to see these beautiful birds.

Waxwings arrive in the country all along the eastern coastline and they have been sighted in more southern areas of the UK.

Northern Isles

The northernmost points of the UK are typically where Waxwings arrive as they leave Scandinavia.

Whilst the Northern Isles often see harsh weather during winter, there are still plenty of berries for them to feed on.

See waxwings on the Northern Isles by spending time around the coastal regions and keeping your eyes peeled for brightly coloured berries adorning trees and bushes.

After feeding here, waxwings will typically move further inland and settle in areas along the Northumberland coast.

To see waxwings in the Northern Isles it is best to arrive early in the waxwings season.

North Yorkshire

Another excellent location to see waxwings in winter is in North Yorkshire.

North Yorkshire has a long stretch of coastline and a plentiful supply of berries for the waxwings to feed on as they arrive.

Head further into North Yorkshire inland to see larger irruptions of waxwings as they find a suitable place to nest for the winter.


Norfolk and its coastline is another great destination to spot waxwings.

Waxwings can easily arrive on the Norfolk coastline on their journey east from Scandinavia.

Waxwings will be looking for sources of berries, which can even be found in car parks around supermarkets.

Larger groups of waxwings, or irruptions, are however often found on the East Anglia coastline.

From here the birds head inland, with some being sighed as far south as Surrey.


Top 5 Places in the UK for Beginner Birdwatchers

The UK is a great place for beginner birdwatchers to observe some of the countries most stunning avian wildlife.

As a country we are lucky to have such varied natural landscapes which offer unique habitats for a variety of native and visiting birds.  Finding the ideal location to see these birds can be daunting for beginner birdwatchers.

There are however there are plenty of exciting destinations across the nation that offer a range of talks, walks, support and more.The best way to see birds in the UK is to get to know the birds in your local area, which will help with recognition of species.

Armed with a guide book and a visit to one of the top 5 UK destinations for beginner birdwatchers, it is possible to see some incredible birds and other wildlife. 

These 5 locations also offer beginner birdwatchers a chance to see rarer birds that are currently flourishing in their natural habitats. Here are the top 5 places in the UK for beginner birdwatchers.

RSPB Minsmere (Top Choice for Beginner Birdwatchers)

RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk was one of the first RSPB reserves in the UK and is one of the best destinations in the UK for beginner birdwatchers to visit.

Firstly, this beautiful nature reserve is perfect for beginner bird watchers as it offers lots of rare bird sightings.

Bearded Tit Minsmere
Image by Lynn via Flickr

Additionally, it offers opportunities to see other wildlife in their natural habitats.

The nature reserve includes a variety of landscapes including shallow lagoons, heathland and wet grassland which creates a variety of habitats perfect for many species of birds.

At Minsmere it is possible to see Avocets, Bearded Tits and Bitterns, and other wildlife including otters and red deer.

There are many hides and viewing points throughout the nature reserve that are open from dawn till dusk.

Four hides offer accessible access ensuring every visitor has the opportunity to spot some of the UK’s most spectacular wildlife.

Minsmere is a great destination for families as they offer nature trails, an education centre with lots of hands on activities for children and adults alike, and guided walks with experts year round.

Make the most of your day here and enjoy a bite to eat in their cafe, or explore the visitor centre to learn more about the birds and wildlife found in the reserve.

Farne Islands (Beginner Birdwatchers Favourite)

The Farne Islands are perhaps the most well-known UK birdwatching destinations and is one that is ideal for beginners.

Visit the Farne Islands through landing tours or ‘sail around’ boat tours with knowledgeable guides.

Here you will find an important breeding ground for around 23 species of sea birds.

The islands dramatic and rocky cliffs are home to approximately 43,000 breeding pairs of puffins.

Also, trips to the islands can reveal Arctic terns, guillemots and eider ducks.

Guillemot Farne Island
Image by Keith Simpson via Flickr

The best time of year for beginner birdwatchers to visit the Farne Islands is between May and July.

During this time puffins are nesting on the cliffs and are easily visible from the boats.

Visit the Farne Islands in June to see Pufflings, with older chicks taking their first flights towards the end of July.

Eider ducks also nest and breed on the cliffs of the island.

These beautiful birds are locally called ‘Cuddy’s Ducks’ after St Cuthbert.

St Cuthbert, a 7th century hermit known for living on the islands, is known for his kindness to birds particularly during the stormy weather that frequents the islands.

On ‘sail around’ tours you may spot puffins heading out to sea to fish and Arctic terns dive-bombing other birds.

These tours are ideal for beginners as they included commentary and information about the breeds visible during the trip.

Additionally these tours offer some of the best opportunities to see a wide variety of incredible seabirds up close.

Loch Garten

Loch Garten is an RSPB destination nestled inside the Abernethy Nature Reserve.

The landscape consists of the largest remaining Caledonian pine forest in Scotland.

Loch Garden features a contrasting landscape of of moorland, wetland and mountains.

These landscapes provide excellent habitats for a range of native birds and other wildlife.

During Spring and Summer pairs of breeding Osprey, Crested Tits, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Siskins nest in the forests.

Crested Tit Loch Garten
Image by Andrew Mckie via Flickr

Loch Garten is a haven for other wildlife too including common lizards, red squirrels and bank voles.

Dusk at Loch Garten is the best time to see Wild Greylag and Pink-footed Geese.

To make this a memorable destination for beginner birdwatchers of all levels, it is possible to hand-feed coal tits at the nature centre.

RSPB Dungeness Nature Reserve

RSPB Dungeness Nature Reserve is a great place for beginner birdwatchers to see some spectacular British birds.

The nature reserve features a variety of landscapes and habitats including shingle, wet grassland and wildflower meadows.

RSPB Dungeness is the ideal destination to spot migratory birds on their way to continental Europe and beyond.

Spring and autumn sees vast migrations of swallows, Martins and swifts.

This nature reserve is home to Marsh Harrier, Bittern and many sea birds.

Marsh Harrier Flying
Image by Phil Gower via Flickr

The winter months also offer ample opportunities to watch birds with wigeons, Teals and Tufted Ducks.

Haweswater Nature Reserve

Haweswater RSPB Nature Reserve is a beautiful Lake District destination for beginner birdwatchers to visit.

This nature reserve covers 30 square kilometres (11.58 square miles) of mossy woodland, heathland and moorland bogs.

Streams cross over the nature reserve creating a thriving habitat for a number of native birds.

This area of the Lake District is currently going through a rewinding program.

Image by Dan via Flickr

Firstly, rewilding aims to restore the natural landscapes and habitats within the reserve.

Secondly, this process will increase the number of insects, wildlife and birds in the park.

Visit Haweswater during spring and summer for a chance to see an increased number of birds in breeding pairs.

Here you can find Osprey and Ring Ouzels flying over this dramatic forested mountain landscape.

The nature reserve has many hiking trains through ancient woodlands offering ample opportunities to see many beautiful birds.

There are also a number of wildlife hides where beginners can safely see native birds without the fear of scaring them away.