Whooper Swan

Cygnus cygnus

This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.

Whooper Swan

Whooper Swan

What does a Whooper Swan look like?

The whooper swan is a very large bird, in fact one of the largest members of the swan family. Adult whooper swans have white plumage with black legs and black webbed feet. They have a long slender neck and long yellow, triangular wedge shaped marking on their bill which extends past their nostrils. The tip of the bill is black in colour. They have a short tail and relatively short legs in comparison with body size. Juveniles are greyish all over with a pink or creamy coloured bill, tipped with black.

Whooper Swan

Did you know?

The whooper swan is the national bird of Finland and features on the Finnish one Euro coin.

What does a Whooper Swan sound like?

The whooper’s call is a loud, low pitched hooting sound, persistent during aggressive or triumphant behaviour but softer in contact situations with its mate or offspring. The sound can resemble an old fashioned car air horn.

Whooper Swan call

Richard Dunn, XC66293. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/66293.

What does a Whooper Swan eat?

Generally, whooper swans feed on aquatic plants, grass and grains and even potatoes and other waste crops found in ploughed fields.

Whooper Swan close up

Whooper Swan close up

Did you know?

Whoopers undertake the longest sea crossing of any swan, between 500 to 900 miles each way annually. As they cross the North Atlantic they can reach incredible heights of over 10,000 feet and down to just above sea level.

Where can I see Whooper Swans?

Whooper swans occupy an extensive geographic range. The majority of whooper swans arriving in the UK, come from Iceland where they breed, arriving here in October and leaving again in late March. They can be found on farmland, estuaries, wetlands, freshwater lakes and coastal areas and mainly occupy these areas in Scotland, northern England and East Anglia. They also migrate directly to Northern Ireland where they can number approximately 20% of the UK’s total whooper swan population. Recent figures indicate there are in the region of up to 20,000 birds over wintering within the UK.

Pair of Whooper Swans

Pair of Whooper Swans

Signs and Spotting tips

Whoopers are often confused with the Bewick’s Swan (the only other migratory swan in the UK) but Bewick’s are a lot smaller and whilst their bills have some yellow colouration it is not as prominent as the whooper’s and covers less area. Geographically the areas they occupy, apart from a few locations in East Anglia are also totally different.

How does a Whooper Swan breed?

It is very unlikely that you will come across breeding pairs within the United Kingdom as latest information indicates there are less than 30 breeding pairs across the UK and these are mainly in Scotland. Nests are built of reeds, moss and aquatic plants forming large mounds on dry shores or in shallow water. One brood consisting of 4 to 6 white eggs is laid between late April to June and incubated by the female for up to 40 days.

Whooper Swan with young

Whooper Swan with young

How long do Whooper Swans live for?

The average lifespan is nine years although there have been ringed birds reaching over 25 years of age.

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Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Cygnus cygnus


Ducks, geese and swans

Conservation status:




140cm to 160cm


205cm to 235cm


9kg to 11kg

Learn more about the Whooper Swan

Similar birds to a Whooper Swan

Other birds in the Ducks, geese and swans family

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