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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 09:34 GMT
Birds 'come in from the cold'
Waxwings are native to northern European countries

Gardens throughout Northern Ireland are playing host to more than 1,000 unusual Siberian visitors.

Huge flocks of waxwings, a colourful starling-type bird, have arrived from Scandinavia and Siberia, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Flocks of these winter rarities have been seen plucking berries from trees and bushes in Ballymena, Coleraine, Bangor, Carrickfergus, and even in the heart of Belfast.

They are distinctive for their brightly-coloured plumage and acrobatic feeding habits among the branches of berry-bearing trees.

The message from the RSPB is to keep a careful eye out for this winter visitor; it may be a long time before it is seen in such numbers again.

Keep an eye out for these stunning winter visitors - it may be a long time before we see such large numbers again
Dr James Robinson

The numbers of waxwings visiting Northern Ireland vary from a dozen in most years to well over 1,000 in winters like the present one.

"Numbers arriving in Northern Ireland are determined by the crop of berries in Scandinavia," said Dr James Robinson, conservation manager, RSPB.

"If there are not enough berries to keep the numbers of waxwings going, they head west to Britain and Ireland, devouring every berry in sight," he said.

Waxwings feed on the berries of rowan and hawthorn, but also cotoneaster and rose.

Log sightings

The RSPB suggests that if people have room to plant one tree in the garden in November, they should opt for a hawthorn, which produces berries favoured by waxwings and winter thrushes.

"If you already have trees or bushes laden with berries in your garden, keep an eye out for these stunning winter visitors - it may be a long time before we see such large numbers again," Dr Robinson said.

The birds have been spotted in flocks of hundreds across the United Kingdom.

They have been seen at gardens, football pitches, surgeries and schools.

Birdwatchers who see waxwings are being asked to log their sightings on BirdTrack, a recently launched online bird recording scheme organised by the British Trust for Ornithology, RSPB and BirdWatch Ireland.

Results will help map the migration and movements of birds such as waxwings and other winter visitors.

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