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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Whooper Swan

Hebrides bird sightings - Whooper Swans

Whooper Swan

Cygnus cygnus

Photograph © Terry Fountain
East Loch Bee - South Uist - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
25th December, 2006


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Whooper Swan
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Whooper Swans
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  • Whooper Swan
  • Cygnus cygnus
  • Gaelic: Eala
  • UK: AMBER LIST. 3-7 wild pairs 6,920 birds RSPB
  • UK: Scarce Breeder, Winter Visitor , scarce in summer (very small numbers recorded in most years). The wintering population of Barra and the Uists is of national importance
  • Breeds: Nest huge mound of vegetation. Often on small islet. Lays 4-6 white eggs, incubated by female. Guarded by Male. Northern Atlantic: Sub-Arctic Iceland, Europe, Asia,
  • Winters: South of breeding range to Africa, India, China (In UK Oct - Mar)
  • Habitat: Large areas of water: lakes, marshes, rivers, estuaries, wetlands,
  • Diet: They swim, straining water for food, also eat aquatic plants growing at bottom. Also some grazing on land, grass, grain, potatoes
  • Larger than Bewick's Swan. Black legs. Triangular-shaped black bill that has a large patch of yellow on it (always more yellow than black - Bewick's Swans always have more black than yellow). Tend to fly in formation (Bewick's Swans usually do not). Juvenile grey or brown with pink & grey bill.
  • Max recorded age 26yrs 6mths. Typical lifespan 9yrs
  • Listen to a Whooper Swan (RSPB site) The noisiest of the Swans - deep honking calls when in flight (Bewick's Swans are usually silent)
  • Similar birds: Bewick's Swan (rare here), Mute Swan


Whooper swans pair for life, and their cygnets stay with them all winter; family groups sometimes include offspring from previous years.

There is an article about the seven Whooper Swans in the Telegraph in the online (8th December, 2007) it is full of interesting whooper swan facts like a group of swans that was picked up on radar at 23,000ft during strong Northerly winds and snow storms. They used a tailwind that reached 180mph to fly above the snowfall.


In 2007 seven whooper swans were tracked by satellite from their breeding grounds in Iceland to their wintering grounds in South-West Scotland for the BBC's Autumnwatch programme.

Previously the starting and end points of their journey were known but not the exact path that they followed.

Some went via Caithness.
Others came down through Lewis.
One is still on the move down in Donnegal Bay area (28 Nov 2007)

On the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust web site you can look at satellite photographs and follow the route each bird took ( zooming on Lewis etc)

(Bit slow on dialup internet access but still useable)


When Andy saw a group of Whooper Swans on Loch Tiumpan in 2008, he noticed that one had a coloured ring, reported it and the record got sent to Anna Jordan the Swan Database Officer (Whoopers and Bewick’s) at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

Anna sent back the history of the ringed bird, it gives a family history of a Whooper going through Lewis and shows how much we learn from the ringing and tag reading as well as how far these birds travel.
See the chart of the Whooper Swan's history.

Anna would appreciate it if we could send any further sightings of swans with coloured rings to her, so it is worth checking all swans for leg rings.

Anna Jordan
Swan Database Officer

Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)
Slimbridge, Glos GL2 7BT, UK
Telephone 01453 891900



Whooper Swan records in the Western Isles

Fairly common passage (occurs in small numbers), and winter visitor (occurs in small numbers), scarce in summer (very small numbers recorded in most years)
The wintering population of Barra and the Uists is of national importance
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)

I estimate about 50 Whooper Swans wintering in Lewis, a few less than that in Harris, with the majority of the wintering population (an additional 200-300 birds) being in the Uists.


In 2008 Whooper Swans successfully raised young at Balranald Nature Reserve, North Uist. Although the Whooper Swan is fairly common in winter most of them leave in Spring to breed elsewhere, there are very few annual UK breeding records. Six cygnets were born in the Balranald nest.


On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the Whooper Swan is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.

























(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)



Collective nouns for Swans

A ballet, team, whiting, squadron of swans (dubious this one!)
A bank, herd, sounder, drift, lamentation of swans
A game, herd, bevy of swans
A regatta of swans (on water)
A whiteness of swans
An eyrar of swans
A wedge of swans (flying in a "V")




Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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