EVERY WEEK IN 2017 WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST.
This week, it is swans
We have three wild species of swan in the UK (plus a few escaped Australian Black Swans on the loose). The very common, familiar swan you will see all year round at your local park, river, wherever, is the Mute Swan. The other two species are the Whooper Swan and Bewick’s Swan, both Arctic breeders which winter in the UK in smallish numbers (about 15,000 Whoopers and 7,000 Bewick’s. There are also about a dozen pairs of Whooper Swans breeding in Scotland, but the vast majority of these winter swans do just that, winter.
As such, the next few weeks are the time to catch them before they head back north to the breeding grounds – until next autumn that is, when they will return.
In general Whooper Swans winter across Scotland and Ireland and in smaller numbers in northern England, as well as around the Wash and East Anglia, the Severn and North Wales.
Bewick’s Swans also winter in Ireland but have a more southern distribution in the UK, with birds found ineastern England, around the Severn Estuary as well as the Lancashire coast.
The classic, ubiquitous swan. Huge and white with a famous graceful S-shaped neck and wings which it rises almost like sails when angry or displaying. Tame and approachable, though with a penchant for producing scary hisses (though they probably can’t really break your arm… ). In flight the wings make a loud whistling. The calls are weird stifled grunts and squeals.
The easiest way to recognise a Mute Swans is to look for the S-shaped neck, and also, the black face in front of the eye, wholly pink-orange bill and black knob at the bill base.
Nearly as big as a Mute Swan, the neck of this species and the Bewick’s is much straighter and stiffer than the Mute’s. Shy, usually flying off strongly at a hint of approach. The wings are more or less silent in flight. Calls are barked honking sounds, a little like Canada Goose from a distance. The long bill is black with a lot of yellow at the base making a sharply pointed V shape pointing toward the bill tip.; the yellow extends all the way to the eyes giving an ‘open’ look to the face.
In many ways like a small version of the Whooper, being considerably smaller (and shorter necked) than its cousin as well as the Mute, being almost like a large goose in size. Shares the stiff, straight neck with the Whooper, as well as the quiet wings in flight. Shy. The shorter bill gives the Bewick’s a more rounded, ‘softer’ head shape. The yellow also extends to the eye, but is less extensive on the black bill, making just a small rounded yellow patch.