Pair of waxwings surrounded by berries in a tree

Winter Wildlife: Wonderful Waxwings

Waxwing eating a berry
Waxwing (c) Jason Bowler CC BY NC 2.0

Our Young Zoologists Club members have been busy creating a waxwing irruption to feature in our Winter Wildlife: ZoologiCOOL livestream on December 1st. Why not make one yourselves at home and join in when you see these models flapping on screen. They are quite simple to make and don’t require any special materials or equipment. Just download the template and follow the instructions below to get making. Scroll down to the end of the post to find out more about these beautiful birds.

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To make a waxwing you will need:

  • Copy of the Waxwing Model template
  • Thin card (a cereal packet is perfect)
  • Glue (optional)
  • Tape (preferably washi tape)
  • Scissors
  • An eraser or lump of modelling clay/blue tac
  • Drawing pin/compasses or similar for punching holes in the card
  • Pencil crayons
  • String, yarn or thread – about 1m
  • Paper clips, blue tac or other small weights to attach to the wings

Instructions:

Waxwing template glued to thin card
Stick printed waxwing template to card and decorate.

Either glue your template to your piece of thin card, or cut out your template and draw round it on your piece of thin card (making sure you transfer all the markings as well). Now is a good time to decorate your model if you want to make it colourful. Make sure you can still see the dots and dotted lines though.

Waxwing model elements cut out
Waxwing model pieces cut out.

Cut out all the pieces making sure you cut along the Cut along the line into the tail end of the body and the corresponding line into the tail piece.

Here’s a trickier bit: making the holes for the string to pass through. Get an adult to help with this step. The larger dots on the template mark where the holes will be. Do this on a solid surface (e.g. a tabletop that won’t tip up when you put pressure on it). Place the eraser/modelling clay under your model piece so that when you push a drawing pin/compasses through the dot to make a hole, the sharp end will go safely into the that and not slip and cause injury. Watch the video to see how it’s done:

Punch holes through the dots on the waxwing model pieces

Do this for each of the large dots: so one on the belly of the body and two on each wing.

Now you’re going to stick the wings to the body, creating a hinge with tape so that they can flap. The wings are attached to the body using the shorter straight edge, with the longer straight edge facing forwards and the curved edge facing backwards. Line up the short straight edge with the dotted line on the body template. Tape it down so that the tape covers all of this edge of the wing. Flip the wing up and add a piece of tape in the same way on the underside of the wing. Repeat on the other side (if you don’t have the dotted line on the other side, keep the first wing flipped up and line the second wing up with that before taping it down). Watch the video to see how it’s done:

Attach the wings to your waxwing model

Thread your string or yarn through the holes made in the wings, leaving enough length to tie the two sides together above the birds when the wings are down. Thread string through the hole in the bottom of the body piece: this will be used to pull the body down and make the wings flap. Watch the video to see how it’s done:

Add strings to your waxwing model
Complete waxwing model with paper clips on the tips of the wings as weights to help them flap.
Complete waxwing model with paper clips on the tips of the wings as weights to help them flap.

Add paper clips or other weights to the ends of the wings until you can make the wings flap smoothly. We found it took about 8 paper clips on each side to get the right weight.

Your waxwing model is now ready to fly!

Waxwing model flying

Waxwing, Bombycilla garrulus

Want to know more about these beautiful birds? Here we have some fun facts and links to find out more.

Waxwing with berries
Waxwing (Public Domain)

Waxwings are only about the size of a starling, but their plumage is very striking. They are a peachy-colour with a crest of feathers on the head, a black mask across the face, and yellow and red feathers visible on the tips of the wings and tail.

Did you know: Waxwings get their name from the red feathers on their wings that look like drops of sealing wax.

We only see waxwings in the UK in the winter. The rest of the year they live in the boreal forests (forest habitats adapted to cold climates). The birds visiting us tend to come from the forests of Scandinavia. Waxwings will not always make the journey to our shores. There are some years when we get just a few dozen birds visiting us, and other years when there can be as many as 12,000.

Waxwing perched on a branch
Waxwing (c) Ian Sutherland CC BY NC SA 2.0

Did you know: a large influx of waxwings is known as an irruption. An irruption is the dramatic but irregular migration of large numbers of birds to an area where they are not normally found.

Why is it that some years we have hardly any waxwings, and others we welcome thousands here? It is to do with the amount of food they have available to them at home. If food is plentiful, there is no need to travel as far as the UK to feed. However, if there are not enough berries and seeds to support them through the winter, they will make the long journey to find more.

Waxwings have a particular fondness for rowan berries. This means some unusual spots for birdwatching if you want to spot a waxwing: rowans are commonly planted in supermarket carparks and other urban areas. As waxwings are heading this way from north and east of the UK, they arrive in the north and east of the country first, spreading south and west as they go.

Here are some links to more information about these birds:

Discover Wildlife: 6 Bohemian waxwing facts you need to know

RSPB: Waxwing bird facts

BTO: Waxwing

Pair of waxwings surrounded by berries in a tree
Waxwings (c) Matti Frisk CC BY NC SA 2.0

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