This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Winter visitors to the UK, formerly considered a full species, but now considered a sub-species of the Tundra Swan.