Industrious bird ringers monitor industrial Waxwings

01 Jan 2013 | No. 2013-02

When it comes to birdwatching hotspots, industrial estates might not be the first sites that spring to mind. Some wildlife-friendly planting and a recent influx of attractive Scandinavian visitors have combined to help Thetford contribute to a national Waxwing monitoring project.

With their pink plumage, large crest and yellow-striped tail, the Waxwing’s exotic appearance conjures up images of tropical jungles, and is the sort of bird one might expect to pop up on our screens part way through an episode of Attenborough’s recent ‘Africa’ series. Nothing could be further from the truth, however; this is a species of northern forests, breeding from Scandinavia across to Russia, then moving south as temperatures drop during the winter. While some reach the UK every year, the numbers vary according to the number of young produced, the weather and the amount of food, primarily berries, available in mainland Europe. 

Figures from BirdTrack, a free online system through which birdwatchers across Britain and Ireland can record their year-round sightings of all species, show that Waxwing numbers have been high so far this winter. “The last time large numbers of Waxwings were seen in the UK was during the middle of the 2010/11 winter,” explains Nick Moran, BirdTrack Organiser at the BTO. “The birds originally arrived in Scotland but soon dispersed across Britain and were the highlight of many of our volunteers’ winter. The pattern has been similar in 2012/13 with the largest flocks in the north, including one of 400 on Skye, but there do seem to be more about in Thetford this time round.”  

One of the local hotspots has been the London Road industrial estate, where flocks of at least 30 birds have gathered to feed on the berry-laden bushes specially selected for planting by the owner, who is himself a keen birdwatcher “It has always been the policy of the Trojan Group to be proactive and to invest in the local communities that our industrial estates nationwide support” said a spokesman for the company. “This project gave landscaped security to both Kelvin and Napier Places by planting a wildlife corridor some 300m long, providing an ideal planning, planting and monitoring project for the local junior school, which was involved in every stage of the process.  We have been delighted that this has led to the arrival of Waxwings in Thetford. The Trojan Group acknowledges and recognises the support received from local councillors, community groups and the Police in the implementation of this project.” 

While the birds have been providing much entertainment and excitement, they also represent the chance to undertake some serious research. Volunteers from Grampian Ringing group in Scotland have been catching the birds and fitting unique combinations of coloured rings to their legs so that they can be individually identified. “Resightings of these birds by members of the public can help us learn more about how they move around the country and utilise the resources available,” said Dave Leech, who works in the BTO Ringing Unit. “A bird caught in Fair Isle, Shetland on 4th November this year was recaught in Aberdeen on 15th November and then resighted again in mid-Wales on 9th December, so they wander far and wide. It would be fantastic to get some sightings on the breeding grounds too, so we can find out where ‘our’ birds actually come from.”

Armed with details of the methods they use in Scotland and a supply of apples to further tempt the birds, Nick Moran organised a team of BTO staff in an attempt to colour-mark some of the Thetford birds. After several cold, unproductive mornings, the team finally caught their first bird on 10th January. As was fitting for a Norfolk bird, the colour combination included the Norwich City colours, with yellow over green over white plastic rings placed on the right leg and lime green over a metal ring on the left. “I’m very grateful for the help from the owner of the London Road industrial estate, the staff of the businesses renting the nearby units and my colleagues – it has been a real team effort and we hope that the data collected by the end of the winter will help us to understand more about this intriguing bird.”

Notes for Editors

  1. Volunteers in the Grampian Ringing group have been coordinating the colour-marking project on Waxwings since 2010. More information about the project and results from previous years can be found at (see particularly post from 27th December).
  2. Ringing aims to understand what is happening to birds in the places they live and how this affects population increases and decreases, this knowledge is vital for conservation. It also gives information on the movements individual birds make and how long many live for. You can help by looking out for ringed birds and reporting them. 

    The British and Irish Ringing Scheme is organised by the BTO. Around 1,000,000 birds are ringed in Britain and Ireland each year by over 2,600 trained ringers, most of whom are volunteers. The BTO Ringing Scheme is funded by a partnership of the British Trust for Ornithology, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (on behalf of: Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, the Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage), The National Parks and Wildlife Service (Ireland) and the ringers themselves.
  3. BirdTrack (  is an exciting project, through a partnership between the BTO, the RSPB, Birdwatch Ireland, the Scottish Ornithologists' Club and the Welsh Ornithological Society, that looks at migration movements and distributions of birds throughout Britain and Ireland. BirdTrack provides facilities for observers to store and manage their own personal records as well as using these to support species conservation at local, regional, national and international scales.
  4. The BTO is the UK's leading bird research charity. A growing membership and up to 60,000 volunteer birdwatchers contribute to the BTO's surveys, collecting information that underpins conservation action in the UK. The BTO maintains a staff of 100 at its offices in Thetford, Stirling, Bangor (Wales) and Bangor (Northern Ireland), who analyse and publicise the results of surveys and projects. The BTO's work is funded by BTO supporters, government, trusts, industry and conservation organisations.

Contact Details

Dr Dave Leech
(BTO Senior Ecologist)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Email: dave.leech [at]

Paul Stancliffe
(BTO Media Manager)

Office: 01842 750050
(9am to 5.30pm)
Mobile: 07585 440910 (anytime)
Email: press [at]

Images are available for use alongside this News Release.  Please contact images [at] quoting reference 2013-02

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