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 Whooper Swan - Fact File
Whooper Swan
Cygnus cygnus
Winter visitor (from Iceland and N. Europe), mainly to Ireland, Scotland and N and E England.
Wetland habitats, mainly shallow lakes and coastal flats. Also feed in farmland on grain stubble and root crops.

Whooper swan showing billLarger and longer-necked than Bewick's Swan, and more angular head and bill. Yellow on bill is more extensive than Bewick's

140 - 165cm (55 - 62")

Whooper Swan

For many years whoopers were considered almost exclusively 'hard weather' arrivals. But in recent winters impressive numbers have favoured Norfolk. Close to the Thurne Broads the swans are first attracted to cleared sugarbeet, potato and stubble fields before changing to marsh grasses from mid-winter onwards.

A number of these whoopers carry large leg rings. With the aid of a telescope numbers may be made out confirming that the birds come from Iceland. Some individuals putting in return appearances have become old friends!

To appreciate a swan spectacular on a grand sale, visit the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's Welney reserve. Here whooper numbers have become of international importance. It is the largest and most southerly concentration in England. Nowhere else can so many visitors enjoy so many whoopers in such comfort and with such excellent viewing facilities. And the great attraction for birds: dumped potatoes and carrots. It is surprising to recall that a dozen or so years ago the Ouse Washes whoopers peaked at less than 100.

In courtship, a pair will face each other, wings quivering in a half-open and lifted position. The neck of each bird is repeatedly bent and then extended. Each performance is accompanied by loud bursts of trumpeting.

Although Welney reserve offers safe roosting and food, the birds run serious risks of collision with overhead wires when moving at dusk or during foggy spells.

Whooper and mute swansIn the course of the winter, the whoopers move freely between main haunts. Ringed examples have been found at Caerlaverock on the Solway and at Martin Mere in Lancashire. If the winter remains 'open' the majority of the Bewick's swans will have left the Fens before the end of next month. However the whoopers linger here until mid-march or even later before beginning the long haul back to Iceland. In both spring and autumn Cromarty Firth becomes an important staging post.

My very first sighting of whooper swans was at the head of Breydon Water. Ice, which had sealed the estuary for days, was finally breaking. Great floes jostled against each other piling up to form miniature icebergs.

Photo shows Whooper Swan (centre) with Mute Swan (left)

The scene became complete when a V-formation of whoopers flying very high arrived from the direction of the sea before planing down onto the newly exposed muds.

A fine selection of ducks, including Norfolk's largest congregation of pochard - makes a winter visit to Welney memorable. For most visitors, the swans are the highlight.

By Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.