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Bewick’s Swan

Bewick's Swan

At a glance

Bewick’s swan is the smallest UK swan and sometimes considered a subspecies of the tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus), along with its North American counterpart, the whistling swan (C.c. columbianus). It is similar to the whooper swan, but has more black and less yellow on the bill, although in solitary birds it can be hard to identify. Its honking call is more rapid and less bugling than the whooper swan, and in flight it lacks the hum of the wings of the mute swan.

Key facts

Scientific name: Cygnus columbianus bewickii
Status: Winter visitor

Wintering birds: 7,000 birds

Conservation status: Amber
Length: 115 – 140 cm
Wingspan: 167 – 225 cm
Weight: Male: 4.5 – 8.4 kg Female: 4.3 – 7.8 kg
Typical lifespan: 9 years

What do Bewick's swans look like?

Adult Bewick’s swans have entirely white plumage except for the facial skin which is black, and the head which can sometimes be stained. The bill is yellow with a black tip and a dull red gape, the eyes are dark brown, and the legs and webbed feet are black.

The female is similar to the male but slightly smaller.

Juvenile Bewick’s swans have dingy white plumage with a grey-brown head and neck. The bill is pink with a black nail, the eyes have a white eye-ring, and the legs and feet are dull pink.

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How do Bewick's swans breed?

Bewick’s swans start breeding in late May or June and produce 1 brood a season. They are monogamous, forming strong pair bonds, and nest in scattered colonies. Both male and female build the nest which is a large mound of plant matter, such as such as sedges, grasses, and moss, situated on dry, elevated ground, alongside lakes, streams, and rivers, or in estuaries.

Bewick’s swans lay 3-5 slightly glossy, granulated white to pale yellow eggs which are incubated by the female alone for 29-30 days while the male defends the territory. Cygnets are covered in pale grey down on the upperparts and white down on the lower parts, with a pink bill and legs. They are cared for by both parents and leave the nest after 3 days. They fledge at about 40-45 days, remaining in family groups for the first winter, and reach sexual maturity at 3-4 years although do not often breed until they are 5 or 6 years.

What do Bewick's swans eat?

Bewick’s swans feed mainly on vegetation foraging the stems, seeds, and roots of aquatic plants as well as algae, pondweed, and sedges. They will also eat invertebrates and out of breeding season will visit fields where they feed on grains such as corn and barley.

Bewick's Swan

Where can I see Bewick's swans?

Bewick’s swans visit the UK between October and March after breeding in Siberia. They are found mainly in eastern England, around the Severn estuary, and in Lancashire. Look out for them in marshes, and wet and ploughed fields.

What do Bewick's swans sound like?

Jarmo Pirhonen/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Individual Bewick’s swans can be identified by the patterns on their bill which are as unique as fingerprints.

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