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Whooper swan

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Whooper swan
Calls recorded in County Cork, Ireland
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Cygnus
C. cygnus
Binomial name
Cygnus cygnus
Range of C. cygnus
  Breeding range
  Year-round range
  Wintering range
  • Anas cygnus Linnaeus, 1758
  • Cygnus ferus

The whooper swan (/ˈhuːpə(ɹ) swɒn/ "hooper swan"; Cygnus cygnus), also known as the common swan, is a large northern hemisphere swan. It is the Eurasian counterpart of the North American trumpeter swan, and the type species for the genus Cygnus.



Francis Willughby and John Ray's Ornithology of 1676 referred to this swan as "the Elk, Hooper, or wild Swan".[2]: 23  It was one of the many bird species originally described by Carl Linnaeus in the 1758 10th edition of his Systema Naturae, where it was given the binomial name of Anas cygnus.[3] The species name is from cygnus, the Latin for "swan".[4]


Head detail

The whooper swan is similar in appearance to Bewick's swan. It is larger, however, at a length of 140–165 centimetres (55–65 inches) and a wingspan of 205–275 cm (81–108 in). The weight is typically in the range of 7.4–14.0 kilograms (16+1430+34 pounds), with an average of 9.8–11.4 kg (21+1225+14 lb) for males and 8.2–9.2 kg (18–20+14 lb) for females. The verified record mass was 15.5 kg (34+14 lb) for a wintering male from Denmark. It is considered to be amongst the heaviest flying birds.[5][6] Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 56.2–63.5 cm (22+18–25 in), the tarsus is 10.4–13.0 cm (4+3325+18 in) and the bill is 9.2–11.6 cm (3.6–4.6 in).[7] It has a more angular head shape and a more variable bill pattern that always shows more yellow than black (Bewick's swans have more black than yellow). Like their close relatives, whooper swans are vocal birds with a call similar to the trumpeter swan.

Three whooper swans and one mute swan

Distribution and habitat

Eggs, Collection Museum Wiesbaden

Whooper swans require large areas of water to live in, especially when they are still growing because their body weight cannot be supported by their legs for extended periods. The whooper swan spends much of its time swimming, straining the water for food, or eating plants that grow on the bottom.[8]

Whooper swans have a deep honking call that resembles geese and, despite their size, are powerful fliers. Whooper swans can migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles to their wintering sites in southern Europe and eastern Asia. They breed in the subarctic Eurosiberia, further south than Bewicks in the taiga zone. They are rare breeders in northern Scotland, particularly in Orkney, and no more than five pairs have bred there in recent years; a handful of pairs have also bred in Ireland in recent years. This bird is an occasional vagrant to the Indian Subcontinent[9] and western North America. Icelandic breeders overwinter in the United Kingdom and Ireland, especially in the wildfowl nature reserves of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

Whooper swans pair for life, and their cygnets stay with them all winter; they are sometimes joined by offspring from previous years. Their preferred breeding habitat is wetland, but semi-domesticated birds will build a nest anywhere close to water. Both the male and female help build the nest, and the male will stand guard over the nest while the female incubates. The female will usually lay 4–7 eggs (exceptionally 12). The cygnets hatch after about 36 days and have a grey or brown plumage. The cygnets can fly at an age of 120 to 150 days.

When whooper swans prepare to go on a flight as a flock, they use a variety of signaling movements to communicate with each other. These movements include head bobs, head shakes, and wing flaps and influence whether the flock will take flight and if so, which individual will take the lead.[10] Whooper swans that signaled with these movements in large groups were found to be able to convince their flock to follow them 61% of the time.[10] In comparison, swans that did not signal were only able to create a following 35% of the time.[10] In most cases, the whooper swan in the flock that makes the most movements (head bobs) is also the swan that initiates the flight of the flock – this initiator swan can be either male or female, but is more likely to be a parent than a cygnet.[10] Additionally, this signaling method may be a way for paired mates to stay together in flight. Observational evidence indicates that a swan whose mate is paying attention to and participates in its partner's signals will be more likely to follow through with the flight. Thus, if a whooper swan begins initiating flight signals, it will be less likely to actually carry through with the flight if its mate is not paying attention and is therefore less likely to join it.[10]

They are very noisy; the calls are strident, similar to those of Bewick's swan but more resonant and lower-pitched on average: kloo-kloo-kloo in groups of three or four.



Whooper swans are much admired in Europe.[8] The whooper swan has been the national bird of Finland since 1981[11][12] and is featured on the Finnish 1 euro coin. The whooper swan is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. Musical utterances by whooper swans at the moment of death have been suggested as the origin of the swan song legend.[citation needed] The global spread of H5N1 reached the UK in April 2006 in the form of a dead whooper swan found in Scotland.[13]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Cygnus cygnus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22679856A85965262. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22679856A85965262.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ Willughby, Francis (1676). Ornithologiae libri tres [Ornithology, Book Three] (in Latin). London: John Martyn.
  3. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, cum Characteribus, Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata (in Latin). Holmiae (Stockholm, Sweden): Laurentius Salvius. p. 122.
  4. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 128. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  5. ^ Brazil, Mark (2003). The Whooper Swan. Christopher Helm Ornithology. ISBN 978-0-7136-6570-3.
  6. ^ Dunning, John B. Jr., ed. (1992). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  7. ^ Madge, Steve (1992). Waterfowl: An Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-395-46726-8.
  8. ^ a b Mondadori, Arnoldo, ed. (1988). Great Book of the Animal Kingdom. New York: Arch Cape Press. pp. 182–183.
  9. ^ "Whooper Swan sighted in Himachal Wetland after 113 years. | Hill Post". Hillpost.in. 30 January 2013. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  10. ^ a b c d e Black, J. (2010). "Preflight Signaling in Swans: A Mechanism for Group Cohesion and Flock Formation" (PDF). Ethology. 79 (2): 143–157. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1988.tb00707.x. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-01-03.
  11. ^ "Whooper Swan". wwf.panda.org. Archived from the original on 3 December 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  12. ^ "Laulujoutsen tuli erämaista koko Suomen kansallislinnuksi". Suomen Luonto.
  13. ^ "Bird flu swan was from outside UK". BBC News. 11 April 2006.