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Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus or Cygnus musicus)


Europe and Asia. This is a Palaearctic cousin of the Trumpeter Swan.

Description: Sexes are similar. All white, although head may be stained from feeding. The adults have a striking black-and-yellow bill pattern. Bill bright pale yellow, with black cutting edges. Legs and feet black. Eye iris dark brown, occasionally bluish. It has a long body and neck and has a more angular shape, exaggerated by longer bill which gives it a ‘Roman nose’ shape to front of head. Juvenile: Almost completely greyish-brown, a little darker on head and neck and whiter on under-parts. Becomes paler during latter part of first year summer, attaining full adult coloration before second winter.

Field Identification:

Length 140-165cm (55-65 in).

Males usually larger than females.

In Flight: Typical swan shape. Distinguished by two-toned bill and rounded tail, with feet reaching tail-tip. Lone individuals difficult to identify but, if species flying together, Whooper is clearly larger than the Bewick with a longer neck and body, heavier head and bill, and has slightly slower wing-beats. It is less agile to take-off and land coming on to water at a shallower angle with more skating over surface. Taking off with more pattering. Wing-beats are silent, or with a quiet swishing at close range.

Voice: Has a variety of honking and trumpeting calls, deeper and stronger than those of the Bewick’s. Flight call is deep and resonant ‘hoop-hoop’ with a second syllable higher. Flying birds are very vocal.

Habits: Highly sociable outside breeding season. It arrives on the breeding ground in second half of May, taking up well-spaced territories. It likes to nest close to water at the edge of a pool or on small islands. Moults after breeding in mid-summer, finally leaving the grounds in small flocks or family parties during latter half of September.

Feeds primarily by grazing in arable fields and sprouting winter cereals, walking with greater ease than Mute swan. Also like to feed on water. Shy and wary, unlike Mute swan, with which it may sometimes associate.

Habitat: Breeds by a variety of open shallow water, from steppe lakes to pools in the northern Taiga, also locally by coastal inlets, estuaries and rivers, but generally avoiding Tundra zone which is inhabited by Bewick’s Swan. Winters in lowland open farmland and occasionally, on passage, in sheltered coastal bays and inlets.

Population: Enormous breeding range makes estimates difficult, but local decreases have occurred through drainage of wetlands and hunting.

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