Mysterious Dark Waxwing

Never heard of one of these…

Photographed by Clive McKay who already has ‘history’ with Waxwings. He was the finder of Britain’s first Cedar Waxwing on Noss, Shetland.

It is clearly unusually dark – presumably melanistic (or perhaps it got stuck down a chimney!).

From Alan Tilmouth:

“Hi Martin,

Whilst it is most probably a case of melanism, I found the following link that suggests some colour change occurs in Cedar Waxwings depending upon diet during feather growth which provides a possible alternative explanation.


This one would be a good ‘marker’ bird to look out for. Hope it gets seen again. I have a recollection that colour-ringed Waxwing from the Aberdeen area get relocated further south though the winter.

Maybe Sheffield at the Waxwing hotspot near my house!

‘Dark’ Bohemian Waxwing. 4 November 2010. Lintrathen, Angus, Scotland. Clive McKay

“A very dark Waxwing in a flock of 85 that I was photographing for flight shots. I was looking through the camera most of the time so didnt notice this bird until I downloaded the pics. N.B. The brick red undertail coverts confirm it as Bohemian Waxwing.”

Clive McKay


About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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7 Responses to Mysterious Dark Waxwing

  1. Marcus Lawson says:

    Hi Martin,
    You are indeed correct in saying that some colour-ringed birds from ‘oop North were then seen further south, here’s one from Feb 2004 in Tunbridge Wells which was ringed in Sheffield,
    More details of the study can be found here

    All the best

    • Martin Garner says:

      That’s great Marcus – thanks – must be a chance of seeing this bird again? Unless it’s stand-out plumage ends up making it more vulnerable to predator attack.

  2. thedrunkbirder says:

    Marcus – I think you’ll find the correct use of written English would be ‘oop t’ North’ where the t’ is silent! 😉

  3. Trev says:

    Hi Martin et al ,

    without wishing to upset the apple cart here, could this bird just not be in the shadow of something ? the birds left wing has an unusually straight line across it which doesn’t look natural so would suggest a shadow from something straight which would then also account for the dark underneath, the right wing looks ok colourwise, I’m guessing it was either early morning or late afternoon looking at the shadows on the other birds which would mean the sunlight was very low and so would have a very good chance of casting such a shadow.

    Just a thought


    • Mick Cunningham says:

      hi Trev

      good question and one that’s already been asked with correspondence from across the pond too – but shadow theory already been discounted by this/another pic showing it’s not in shadow; tho all the technical stuff to support that is a bit beyond me. maybe Clive will respond.


      • Trevor Lee says:

        Hi Mick,

        With that amount of strong sunlight on the bird it would need to be jet black to look like it does , as with all the others in the pic it would pick up the sunlight and be very bright , this bird is picking no sunlight up at all apart from the right wing and a little on the vent, so i’m not convinced at all .


  4. Chris Galvin says:

    Your comment about birds from the Aberdeen area being relocated further south is spot on. I photographed a colour-ringed Waxwing near my home in Liverpool in Jan 2005. Five days later the same bird was photographed in Exeter. The bird had been ringed 31st October 2004 in Aberdeen

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