Tuesday 21 May
Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Whooper swan fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Whooper swan description
The whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) is a winter visitor to Britain. Its common name refers to the loud ‘whooping’ calls that it produces (5). This large white swan tends to hold its neck erect whilst swimming (3). In spring and summer, some adults may develop rusty ‘stained’ plumage on the neck and head caused by the iron-rich water on which they live (6). It can be distinguished from the smaller Bewick’s swan in that the wedge-shaped yellow colouration of the bill extends beyond the nostrils, with the rest of the bill being black; in Bewick’s swans the yellow patch is small and rounded (2). Juveniles have greyish brown plumage and a pink and black bill (2).Top
Whooper swan biology
Whooper swans can be seen in Britain from November to March (3). During the migration they fly at high altitudes; a pilot flying at 8,000 feet once saw a flock of swans, thought to be whoopers (6). Although this species may occur in very large flocks numbering over 1,000 individuals, they more typically occur in small groups (5). They feed on water plants, grass and cereals and may eat waste potatoes and sugar beet (5).
During courtship, pairs face one another, with the wings held in a half-lifted and half-open position. The neck is then extended and bent repeatedly while both birds loudly vocalise (7). The pair produces a clutch of between three and seven eggs, which are incubated for 35 days. The young, known as cygnets, will have fully fledged after a further 87 days (3).Top
Whooper swan range
Whooper swans breed across northern Eurasia (5). Most of the whooper swans that spend the winter in Britain and Ireland originate from the population that breeds in Iceland (4). The population breeding in north-western Europe winters in Denmark and parts of Germany, and there are two western Siberian breeding populations; one winters in the eastern Mediterranean while the other migrates to the area around the Caspian Sea (4). In Britain a few pairs occasionally try to breed in Scotland, but with varying success (3). The British wintering population is mainly northern, with most birds occurring north of a line drawn between the Wirral to the Humber (5). Further south of this, only small flocks occur with the exception of the Ouse Washes and Anglesey (5).Top
Whooper swan habitat
Whooper swans make use of a wider range of habitats than Bewick’s swans (5). They are found on lowland farmland close to the coast, on flooded fields, mudflats, lakes and small ponds and lochs and will graze on farmland in winter (3) (5). They breed in boggy habitats with pools and small lakes where there are plenty of reeds and other sheltering vegetation (2) (3).Top
Whooper swan status
The whooper swan is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (3). Receives general protection in Great Britain under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act and listed under Annex I of the EC Birds Directive. Listed as a Species of European Conservation Concern (4).Top
Whooper swan threats
Known threats facing this species include the risk of flying into overhead wires (7). As the whooper swan overwinters in such large numbers in Britain, and because a handful of pairs attempt to breed in this country, it is included in the Amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern (3).Top
Whooper swan conservation
44 percent of the British population of whooper swans and 19 percent of the Irish population occur within Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and so this species receives a level of protection at these sites. However, as this bird tends to feed away from these protected areas, suitable management in the countryside surrounding these areas must be considered (4).Top
Find out more
For more information on the whooper swan:
BBC Wildlife Finder:
For more on British birds:
For more information on the whooper swan and other bird species:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
- Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D. & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
RSPB A-Z of Birds- whooper swan (February 2004):
JNCC Special Protection Areas for whooper swan (February 2004):
- Lack. P. (1986) The atlas of wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. T & A D Poyser Ltd, London.
- Holden, P. & Sharrock, J.T.R. (2002) The RSPB Guide to British Birds. Pan Macmillan, London.
Birds of Britain (February 2004)
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.