Swans are a bird you will always see, so when I saw a ‘get to know your swans’ page in my countryfile magazine a while ago I had to share a version of it, plus I think it’s super helpful for the majority of people.
Below is a guide of the 3 main swans you’re likely to see.
1. Mute swan (Cygnus olor)- at 1.5cm in length, this is our largest native wildfowling. The adult possesses all-white plumage with huge black feet and a black knobbly beak marked by an extensive orange tip. It is among our favourite british birds and for this reason it thrives almost everywhere, from the Outer Hebrides to inner London and occupies any open water habitat including coastal harbours. Despite the birds popularity and partly because of its confiding manner, some swans fall victim to vandalism. Up to half of all nests in one study area failed, even before hatching, because of human persecution. Surviving cygnets can remain with parents for almost a year.
2. Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)- a breeding bird of northern bog and taiga landscapes in Iceland and eastwards across Eurasia from Norway to Japan or China. It winters in central Europe and as far south as Greece, Turkey and Iran. Odd pairs occassionally breed in northernmost Scotland. It’s as large as the mute swan but with yellow instead of orange markings on its black beak; it also holds its neck straight, not in the mute swan’s s-shaped curve. Another key feature is its remarkable voice. The name is onomatopoeic and conveys something of a far carrying trumpet note, which pairs deploy in mutual singing displays. The whopper stays in Britain from October to March but its wintering patterns are disrupted by climate chaos.
3. Bewick’s swan (Cygnus columbianus)- smaller (at around 1.3m) and more compact than either the mute or whooper swan, with a much shorter neck. The yellow patch on its black beak is also confined to the base of the bill. The name honours the 18th century English natural history writer Thomas Bewick. The species was once a regular visitor as far south as the Severn Estuary where Peter Scott established a Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge, partly to protect and study this Russian migrant. Climate change has meant Bewicks swans now seldom leave continental Europe and the British population has declined as a result.
Happy swan spotting. 🐤🐤🐤