Bewick's Swan

Cygnus columbianus bewickii

Winter visitors to the UK, formerly considered a full species, but now considered a sub-species of the Tundra Swan.

Bewick's Swan

Length:

115cm to 127cm

Wingspan:

170cm to 195cm

Weight:

6kg to g

What does a Bewick's Swan look like?

The bewick's swan is a large bird, smaller than both the whooper and mute swan. Adults are white all over, with black legs and feet. They have black bills with yellow markings at the base of the beak - in most adults. Both male and females look the same, with males being larger on average. Juveniles have some grey feathers and during their first winter, have pinkish-grey bills that become darker towards the tip and pinkish-grey legs and feet.

Bewick's swans are often confused with the similar-looking whooper swan, as both birds have black and yellow bills. The patches on the bewick's swan yellow bill tend to be more circular in shape, whilst the whooper swans' yellow colourings make more of a V shape on either side of their bill. Bewick's are generally much smaller in size as well.

Their calls are quite different and can be a good way to identify them. Bewick's swans have a call that resembles an excited dog, with the whooper swan sounding more like an old-fashioned car horn.

Bewick's Swan

Bewick's swan (Tundra Swan) swimming

What does a Bewick's Swan sound like?

Bewick's swans produce a loud call that is similar to an excited dog with both sexes sounding similar. They are vocal throughout most of the year, particularly on the water and when in flight. One of the main calls is a simple 'oo' or 'ou'. They will hiss when threatened by predators, particularly whilst protecting their young.

Bewick's Swan call

Richard Dunn, XC66289. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/66289.

Bewick's Swan

Bewick's swan in flight

What does a Bewick's Swan eat?

In the UK, their diet consists mainly of leftover grain and potatoes. They eat grass and aquatic plants when they are in their breeding grounds. Their long necks enable them to forage and feed in water up to 1m deep.

Where can I see Bewick's Swans?

After spending the breeding season in Siberia, bewick's swans will arrive in the UK from the middle of October and leave again in March. This is due to the UK climate during these months being much warmer than in Siberia. The wintering birds can be mainly found in parts of eastern England, around the Severn estuary and in Lancashire.

Bewick's Swan

Flying Bewick's Swan (tundra swan)

Signs and Spotting tips

In the UK, the Ouse and Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire are usually good spots to see these birds. Martin Mere in Lancashire and Slimbridge in Gloucestershire are also reliable spots to see bewick's swans.

In flight during migration, bewick's swans will travel together in large flocks of up to 100 birds. They'll usually fly in a V formation around 300 metres during local migration, but on migration, this goes up to around 1,500 metres.

How does a Bewick's Swan breed?

Bewick's swans pair for life. They usually choose a mate similar in age and size, meaning the largest and oldest pairs are the most dominant. Males will often fight to protect their mates and establish dominance.

Breeding takes place in parts of Siberia and nests are built out of vegetation - usually grasses and moss - on dry elevated ground, near large bodies of water. Both birds will usually build the nest together; however, females will spend most of the time doing this. Females will lay a clutch of between 3 and 5 creamy-white eggs. The female mainly does incubation, but males will also take part.

A few hours after hatching, chicks will begin to walk around nearby the nest. Cygnets will start to follow their parents around after around 3 days.

Bewick's Swan

Close up of a bewick's swan

How long do Bewick's Swans live for?

The average lifespan for a bewick's swan is around 10 years. The oldest recorded tundra swan was over 24 years old.

Country distribution of a Bewick's Swan

Similar birds to a Bewick's Swan

Other birds in the Ducks, geese and swans family