Bird of the Week – Bohemian Waxwing ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 7/5/12
Following on from the Black Woodpecker, here is the (Bohemian) Waxwing another unusual northern European species that has a 50 year connection for me.
The Bohemian Waxwing breeds across northern Eurasian and North America and moves southwards in winter in search of its staple winter food, berries. In Western Europe, it usually goes only as far as Germany and northern France, but in some years, driven by food shortages, it makes its way as far west as Britain and, more rarely, Ireland. That happened in the early 1960s when I was a schoolboy in Ireland, and I once saw several feeding on berries in a suburban street in Dublin (Eglington Road). I hadn’t seen them again since until my trip to Finland two weeks ago and I drove down that street a few days ago.
These starling-sized birds are exotic by European standards and beautiful by any, so you can imagine my excitement all those years ago. It was good to catch up with them again in Finland, and this female, perched on top of a conifer, allowed me to approach fairly closely. They get their name from the red waxy-looking tips to some of the wing feathers, which you can see if you look carefully at the photos. These are more obvious in males, and the whitish stripes below the red spot are much yellower in males.
In Europe, these birds are just called Waxwings, but in North America there are two species and this one is qualified with the Bohemian tag to separate it from the slightly smaller but otherwise rather similar Cedar Waxwing. This featured as Bird of the Week three years ago and here it is again:
Waxwings have silky feathers, and the generic name Bombycilla means, in pigeon Latin, ‘silky tail’. There are only 3 species – the third being the Japanese Waxwing – and they were originally the only members of the family Bombycillidae. Recent genetic studies have shown that several other species are related to them and have been moved into the family. Interestingly, these include the three species of aptly-named Silky-Flycatchers (the ‘silky’ being apt, not the greatly overused ‘flycatcher’), such as the Long-tailed Silky-Flycatcher and you’ll see the family resemblance if you follow the link.
Meanwhile in Dublin, my niece has given birth to a delightful baby girl, Aoibhinn, and both mother and child are doing well. Ancient Irish names are very fashionable here and ‘bh’ in Irish has a ‘v’ sound (strictly speaking it’s an aspirated ‘b’, traditionally represented by a dot over the ‘b’) so the name is pronounced something like ‘eaveen’. Aiobhinn timed her arrival well and waited until all the immediate members of the family were in Dublin, including my other niece who came over from Strasbourg with her husband.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd, to a
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
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She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. (Proverbs 31:22 KJV)
What a gorgeous bird and I am thankful that Ian met up with an old friend from years ago. Seeing her must have brought back memories. Thanks again for sharing your birding adventures with us, Ian.
See these other articles about the Waxwings:
See all of Ian’s Bird of the Week articles
Waxwings – Bombycillidae family