Top Places to See Waxwings this Winter

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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.

Waxwing
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

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.

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