We’ve been seeing a lot of winter visitors lately in Montrose, especially when the rowan trees were full of berries! Here’s a look at a few species that you tend to see only at this time of year!
The redwing is slightly smaller than a song thrush, with a pale stripe above the eye and another one less pronounced stripe above its cheek. It’s the chestnut-red underwings that give this bird its name though. Even though the males and female are quite similar looking, male redwings have a shorter tail than females. The thin, plaintive whistles that people hear on a misty evening in October and November are most likely to be redwings. These are the contact calls uttered in flight.
Even though a lot of us have seen redwings in our gardens this year, they aren’t generally garden birds. They will go to them during hard winters in search of food. They eat invertebrates but favour berries in autumn and winter. Most redwings arrive in September and October crossing the North Sea from Scandinavia and Russia but hard weather may force them to migrate further.
Waxwings breed in boreal forests in Scandinavia through to Russia. Although they breed at relatively low densities, a good berry crop in one autumn can deliver a sizeable population through to the following year. Since a poor berry crop is followed by a particularly good one this increased population of birds is likely to find itself short of berries the following autumn, and this is when they’re forced to move long distances in search of food. Outside of breeding season their favoured food is red rowan berries. Many urban areas contain suitable berry producing bushes and shrubs, which is why waxwing reports often, come from places like ‘outside Tesco’! Because they breed in fairly uninhabited areas, waxwings tend to be quite approachable, providing a great opportunity to try out your photography skills. I also had the pleasure of watching these birds right from my own living room window, as they go to the park across from my house every year!
Fieldfares are often seen in big flocks along with redwings. They mostly eat insects and worms taken from the ground, but, like redwings, will eat lots of berries in autumn and winter. Large flocks will gather on open fields and grassy areas and they roost in small colonies for extra protection against corvids (which are actively pursued in flight and sometimes bombarded with excrement!).
Visitor Centre Assistant