The Starling-sized Waxwing is a bird with a spectacularly colourful plumage topped off with a large crest and, although the general appearance is initially of rose pink to beige, the eye is soon drawn towards the jet-black eye stripe and bib.

There are also bright yellow and white patterns on the wings and a broad yellow tip to the tail. This bird actually gets its name from the bright red tips to the secondary wing feathers, recalling the days when red wax was used to seal documents.

The full title is Bohemian Waxwing to differentiate it from two close relatives found in other parts of the world.

The plumage suggests an exotic bird of tropical forests, but in fact the sub–arctic pine forests are its main breeding grounds and much of Europe is the winter territory where it can strip berry-bearing plants for nourishment.

A favourite food is the Rowan Tree, often called the mountain ash, and they will stay in the vicinity sometimes in large flocks until they have exhausted the berry supply, before moving on.

Many other types of berry are taken, particularly after the rowan has been stripped bare. They will also feed on apples from our gardens and orchards.

Occasionally, and this season is one, a shortage of berries in Europe will lead to an invasion of Britain in search of food.

This is known as an irruption and we are experiencing one of the largest ever in our county with reports from Henley to Banbury, with hot spots in Witney, Abingdon, Combe, Charlbury and the Wychwoods.

I caught up with a small flock in Aston reported to me by Tony Edwards, a resident and local birder, where the numbers peaked at eight. Elsewhere, although the flocks, with a couple of exceptions, were under 100, from the many reported sightings the total must be many hundreds. A rare feature of this irruption is the early arrival in mid-November as we normally record them in early March.

When you next go shopping at your local supermarket, look out for any berry bearing plants such as Cotoneaster, for these premises are often landscaped with plants the birds are able to utilise and you may be in for a most pleasant surprise.

Barry Hudson Oxford Ornithological Society