Mr W. Dunbar and the rare Bohemian Waxwing 1847


This letter appeared in an Aberdeen newspaper letters page on December 8th 1847.

Thankfully sensitivities towards preservation of bird and animal life have improved since then, to some extent, but I believe it is still the practice to kill a previously unknown species of captured bird to confirm its unique identity.

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A Rare Bird Shot

We (Inverness Courier) have received the following letter, which may be interesting to some of our readers: –

“Bonar Bridge, 20th Nov.; Dear Sir, –

It affords me much pleasure to be able to state, that I have succeeded in killing one of the most rare and beautiful birds that visit the British Isles.

The bird is a fine male specimen of the Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrula.) Yesterday, my brother on his way to Lairg, discovered on the top branch of a mountain-ash, in Mr Cuthbert’s garden at Balblair, a bird with which he was not at all acquainted. On his return, late in the evening, he mentioned the circumstances, and from his description, I thought that it might be the bird which it actually proved to be.

Early this morning, I started with my gun, and to my great pleasure I found the bird feeding on the berries of the same tree, and brought him to the ground. I have him now preserved. A more beautiful bird is not easily found, combining, as he does, a graceful figure with a varied and brilliant plumage.

The Waxwing is a rare bird in Britain; and, so far as I am aware, has not been detected in the northern counties until now. It is a native of Asia; but where it breeds has not been ascertained. Perhaps it would not be out of place to give a sort of description of the bird, in case there are some more stragglers about; it is possible some may yet be captured:- The bill, black; eyes, dark red; forehead, rich chestnut; an ample crest adorns the head; feathers of the crest, drab; breast and abdomen, yellow drab; the coverts of the primaries, black, tipped with white; quill feathers of the wing, black, tipped with yellow – the four inner quill feathers terminate in a small oblong spot, resembling red sealing-wax; upper tail-coverts, grey drab; tail feathers, smoke-grey, tipped with rich gold-yellow; under tail-coverts, reddish brown; legs and toes, black; – all the plumage a soft and silky appearance. –Yours truly, W. Dunbar.”

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