This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
140cm to 160cm
205cm to 235cm
9kg to 11kg
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.
The whooper swan is the national bird of Finland and features on the Finnish one Euro coin.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
The average lifespan is nine years although there have been ringed birds reaching over 25 years of age.
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
The tundra bean goose is the most common species of bean goose, and breeds on Russian tundra landscapes. Winters are spent grazing on open fields, marshes and agricultural land in western and central Europe and East Asia.
The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
Fast and erratic in flight, the Teal is the United Kingdom’s smallest wildfowl species. Despite occurring year-round in low numbers, birdwatchers are most likely to spot these tiny ducks in the winter when large numbers arrive from abroad.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
A native of Japan and China, the mandarin duck was first introduced into the UK in the 18th century and started populations in the wild in the 1930’s following escapes from captivity. The UK population is estimated to be in the region of 7,000 birds.
Instantly recognizable, the Mallard is a medium-sized dabbling duck that is familiar to people all over the world. These adaptable waterfowl are the ancestor of the modern domestic duck and are found everywhere from remote wilderness lakes to suburban backyards.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
This large bodied goose is both adaptable and social having been imported into Europe and Asia from its native lands in North America. A monogamous bird which pairs for life, it is considered a pest in some areas as being both messy and aggressive, particularly within urban environments.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
Winter visitors to the UK, formerly considered a full species, but now considered a sub-species of the Tundra Swan.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.
© 2023 - Birdfact. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without our written permission.