Whooper swan

The whooper swan is a very rare breeding bird in the UK, but has a much larger population that spends the winter here after a long journey from Iceland. It has more yellow on a yellow-black beak. Whooper Swan — one of the larger species of swans.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Whooper swan

Photo: Whooper swan

Whooper swans nest in forest-tundra and taiga zones throughout Eurasia, south of the breeding range of the Buick swans, stretching from Iceland and northern Scandinavia in the west to the Russian Pacific coast in the east.

Five major population groups of whooper swans have been described :

  • Iceland population;
  • NW continental Europe population;
  • population of the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean Sea;
  • population of Western and Central Siberia, Caspian Sea;
  • population of East Asia.

However, there are very few information on the extent of movement of whooper swans between the Black Sea/Eastern Mediterranean and the regions of Western and Central Siberia/Caspian Sea, and therefore these birds are sometimes considered as a single Central Russian breeding population.

The Icelandic population breeds in Iceland and most migrate across the Atlantic Ocean 800–1400 km in winter, mainly to Britain and Ireland. About 1000-1500 birds remain in Iceland during the winter, and their numbers depend on weather conditions and food availability.

Video: Whooper swan

The northwestern continental European population breeds throughout northern Scandinavia and northwestern Russia, with increasing numbers of pairs nesting further south (especially in the Baltic countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland). Swans migrate south for winter, mostly in mainland Europe, but some individuals are known to have reached southeast England.

The Black Sea/Eastern Mediterranean population breeds in Western Siberia and possibly west of the Urals, there may be some degree of cross-linking with Western and Central Siberia/Caspian Sea populations. Population of Western and Central Siberia/Caspian population. It is thought to breed in Central Siberia and by winter between the Caspian Sea and Lake Balkhash.

The East Asian population is widespread during the summer months throughout northern China and the eastern Russian taiga and winters mainly in Japan, China and Korea. Migration routes are not yet fully understood, but call and trace programs are underway in eastern Russia, China, Mongolia, and Japan.

Appearance and Features

Photo: What a whooper swan looks like

Photo: What a whooper swan looks like

Whooper Swan — it is a large swan averaging 1.4 — 1.65 meters. The male tends to be larger than the female, averaging 1.65 meters and weighing around 10.8 kg, while the female typically weighs 8.1 kg. Their wingspan is 2.1 — 2.8 meters.

Whooper swan has pure white plumage, webbed and black legs. Half of the beak is orange-yellow (at the base) and the tip is black. These beak markings vary from individual to individual. The yellow markings extend in a wedge shape from the base to or even beyond the nostrils. Whooper swans also have a relatively upright posture compared to other swans, with a slight arch at the base of the neck and a relatively long neck to overall body length. The legs and feet are usually black, but may be pinkish gray or with pink patches on the legs.

Young birds usually have white plumage, but gray individuals are also not uncommon. Fluffy quinoa is pale grey, with a slightly darker crown, nape, shoulders and tail. The immature plumage on the first pubescence is gray-brown, darker on the crown. Individuals turn gradually white, at varying rates, during their first winter, and may age by spring.

Fun fact: Whooper swans have a high-pitched vocal, both in summer and winter , with calls similar to those of Buick's swans, but with a deeper, resonant, eerie tone. Strength and pitch vary according to social context, from loud constant notes during aggressive encounters and triumphant cries to softer “contact” noises between paired birds and families.

In winter, calls are most often used when establishing dominance in flocks upon arrival at the wintering site. The calls accompanying a headbutt are important in maintaining couple and family cohesion. They become progressively louder before takeoff, fading into a higher pitched tone after flight. Furry juveniles make heavy raspy sounds when in trouble and softer contact calls at other times.

Whoopers shed their flight feathers in their breeding range from July to August every year. Paired birds have an asynchronous molting tendency. Unlike Bewick's swans, where the yearlings are identified by traces of gray feathers, the plumage of most winter whoopers is indistinguishable from that of adults.

Where does the whooper swan live?

Photo: Whooper swan in flight

Photo: Whooper swan in flight

Whooper swans have an extensive range and are found in the boreal zone within Eurasia and on many nearby islands. They migrate hundreds or thousands of miles to their wintering grounds. These swans usually migrate to winter territories around October and return to their nesting territory in April.

Whooper swans breed in Iceland, Northern Europe and Asia. They migrate from the south for the winter to western and central Europe — around the Black, Aral and Caspian Seas, as well as in the coastal regions of China and Japan. In the UK they breed in northern Scotland, especially in Orkney. They winter in northern and eastern England, as well as in Ireland.

Birds from Siberia winter in small numbers in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. Migrants occasionally move to other points in western Alaska, and are very rarely seen further south along the Pacific coast to California in winter. Solitary and small aggregations, which are rarely seen in the northeast, can be either escaped from captivity or left Iceland.

The whooper swan mates and builds nests on the banks of freshwater reservoirs, lakes, and shallow rivers and swamps. They prefer habitats with budding vegetation that can offer additional protection for their nests and newborn swans.

Now you know where the Red Book whooper swan lives. Let's see what a beautiful bird eats?

What does the whooper swan eat?

Photo: Whooper swan from the Red Book

Photo: Whooper swan from the Red Book

Whooper swans feed primarily on aquatic plants, but they also eat grains, grasses, and agricultural products such as wheat, potatoes, and carrots — especially in winter when other food sources are not available.

Only young and immature quinoa feed on aquatic insects and crustaceans, as they have a higher protein requirement than adults. As they get older, their diet changes to plant-based, which includes aquatic vegetation and roots.

In shallow water, whooper swans can use their strong webbed feet to dig through submerged mud, and like mallards, they tip over, plunging their heads and necks underwater to expose roots, shoots, and tubers.

Whooper swans feed on invertebrates and aquatic vegetation. Their long necks give them an advantage over short-necked ducks as they can feed in deeper waters than geese or ducks. These swans can feed in waters up to 1.2 meters deep by uprooting plants and cutting leaves and stems of plants growing underwater. Swans also forage by gathering plant material from the surface of the water or near the water's edge. On land, they feed on grain and grass. Beginning in the mid-1900s, their winter behavior changed to include more ground feeding.

Personalities and Lifestyles

Photo: Whooper Swan

Photo: Whooper Swan

The swan nesting season is timed to use readily available food supplies. Nesting usually occurs from April to July. They nest in areas with sufficient food, shallow and unpolluted water. Usually only one pair nests in one body of water. These nesting territories range in size from 24,000 km² to 607,000 km² and are often located near where the female hatched.

The female chooses the nest and the male defends it. Swans are more likely to return to the same nest if they have been able to successfully raise their young there in the past. Pairs will either build a new nest or renovate a nest they have used in previous years.

Nesting sites are often located on slightly elevated areas surrounded by water, for example:

  • on top old beaver houses, dams or mounds;
  • on growing vegetation that is either floating or anchored to the bottom of the water;
  • on small islands.

Nest building starts in mid-April and can take up to two to complete weeks. The male collects aquatic vegetation, grasses and sedges and passes them to the female. She first folds plant material on top and then uses her body to form a depression and lay her eggs.

Socket — it is basically a large open bowl. The inside of the nest is covered with down, feathers and soft plant matter found in its surroundings. Nests can reach a diameter of 1 to 3.5 meters and are often surrounded by a 6 to 9 meter ditch. This moat is usually filled with water to make it harder for predatory mammals to reach the nest.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Photo: Whooper swan chicks

Photo: Whooper swan chicks

Swans Whoopers breed in freshwater swamps, ponds, lakes and along slow-moving rivers. Most swans find their partners before the age of 2 years — usually during the winter season. While some may nest for the first time at two years of age, most do not start nesting until they are 3 to 7 years old.

Upon arrival at the breeding territory, the pair engage in mating behavior that includes head bobbing and wing-tossing collision with each other.

Fun fact: Pairs of whooper swans are usually bonded for life, and stay together throughout the year, including moving together in migratory populations. However, it has been observed that some of them change partners during their lives, especially after unsuccessful relationships, and some who have lost their partners do not remarry.

If a male pairs up with another younger female, she usually goes over to him in his territory. If he connects with an older female, he will go to her. If a female loses her mate, she tends to pair up quickly, choosing a younger male.

Bonded couples tend to stay together all year round; however, outside of the breeding season, they are very social and often congregate with large numbers of other swans. However, during the breeding season, pairs will aggressively defend their territories.

Egg laying usually occurs from late April to June, sometimes even before the nest is completed. The female lays one egg every other day. Usually there are 5-6 creamy white eggs in a clutch. However, up to 12 have been found in some cases. If this is the first clutch of a female, there will likely be fewer eggs, and more of these eggs will likely be infertile. The egg is about 73 mm wide and 113.5 mm long and weighs about 320 g.

Once the laying is completed, the female begins incubation of the eggs, which lasts about 31 days. During this time, the male stays close to the nesting site and protects the female from predators. In very rare cases, the male may help in the brooding of the eggs.

Interesting fact: During the incubation period, the female only leaves the nest for short periods to feed on vegetation nearby, bathe or preen. However, before leaving the nest, she will cover the eggs with nesting material to hide them. The male will also stay nearby to defend the nest.

Whooper swan natural enemies

Photo: Whooper Swans

Photo: Whooper Swans

Human activities threaten whooper swans.

Such activities include:

  • hunting;
  • nest destruction;
  • poaching;
  • Habitat loss and degradation, including recultivation of inland and coastal wetlands, especially in Asia.

Threats to whooper swan habitat include:

  • agricultural expansion;
  • overgrazing (e.g. sheep);
  • draining wetlands for irrigation;
  • cutting down vegetation to feed livestock for the winter;
  • development of roads and oil pollution from oil exploration;
  • exploitation and transportation;
  • tourism disturbance.

Illegal swan hunting still occurs, and collision with power lines is the most common cause of death for whooper swans wintering in northwestern Europe. Lead poisoning associated with the ingestion of lead shot during fishing remains a problem, with a significant proportion of individuals surveyed having elevated blood lead levels. The species is known to have contracted avian influenza, which has also harmed the birds.

As such, current threats to whooper swans vary by location, with causes of degradation and habitat loss including overgrazing, infrastructure development, development of coastal and inland wetlands for farm expansion programs, construction of hydroelectric power plants, disturbance from tourism and oil spills.

Population and species status

Photo: Whooper swan looks like

Photo: Whooper swan looks like

Statistics say that the world population of whooper swans is 180,000 birds, while the Russian population is estimated at 10,000-100,000 mating pairs and approximately 1,000,000,000 wintering individuals. The population of Europe is estimated at 25,300-32,800 couples, corresponding to 50,600-65,500 mature individuals. In general, whooper swans are currently classified in the Red Book as those that are least threatened. Populations of this species seem fairly stable at the moment, but its wide range makes estimates difficult.

The whooper swan has shown a significant population increase and range expansion in northern Europe during recent decades. The first breeding was reported in 1999, and in 2003 breeding was reported at a second site. Since 2006, the number of breeding sites has increased rapidly, and the species is now reported to breed in a total of 20 sites. However, at least seven sites were abandoned after one or more years of breeding, resulting in a temporary decrease in population size after a few years.

Further expansion of the whooper swan population may soon lead to increased competition with other swans, but there are many other potential breeding sites without the presence of swans. Whooper swans play a vital role in influencing plant community structures due to the high amount of biomass lost when they feed on their preferred submerged macrophyte, fennel, which stimulates pond growth at intermediate depths.

Whooper swan guard

Photo: Whooper swan from the Red Book

Photo: Whooper swan from the Red Book

The legal protection of whooper swans from hunting was introduced in parts by countries within reach (for example, in 1885 in Iceland, in 1925 in Japan, in 1927 in Sweden, in 1954 in Great Britain, in 1964 in Russia).

The extent to which the law is implemented remains variable, especially in remote areas. The species is also protected under international conventions such as the European Community Birds Directive (Annex 1 species) and the Berne Convention (Annex II species). The populations of Iceland, the Black Sea and Western Asia are also included in category A (2) in the African and Eurasian Waterfowl Conservation Agreement (AEWA), developed in accordance with the Convention on Migratory Species.

Ongoing action for the protection of swans -whoopers are as follows:

  • most of the main habitats of this species are designated areas of special scientific interest and special protection zones;
  • rural management scheme of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and The Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme includes measures to protect and improve the habitat of whooper swans;
  • annual monitoring of key sites under the Wetland Bird Survey scheme;
  • regular population census.

Whooper Swan — a large white swan whose black bill has a characteristic large triangular patch of yellow. They are amazing animals, they mate once in a lifetime, and their chicks stay with them all winter. Whooper swans breed in Northern Europe and Asia and migrate to the UK, Ireland, Southern Europe and Asia to winter.

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