Bewick's Swan

Cygnus columbianus (Ord, 1815) BS BEWSW 1530
Family: Anseriformes > Anatidae

Bewick's Swan, John Harding

Our smallest swan is a winter visitor from the Russian tundra. It has an elegant look with a rounded yellow patch on the bill.

Around one third of the world population of Bewick’s Swans come to our inland wetlands for the winter, spread out mainly across southern England from the fenlands of East Anglia to the Severn Estuary. The Wetland Bird Survey reports a significant population decline over the last 25 years.

The Ouse and Nene Washes now hold the largest flocks, although the history of the species in England is tied to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust reserve at Slimbridge, where individual recognition based on the shape of the yellow bill patch has allowed the fate of families to be studied over many years.


Bewick's Swan identification is sometimes difficult. The following article may help when identifying Bewick's Swan.

related video

Identifying winter swans

Whooper Swan. Photograph by Jill Pakenham

Every winter thousands of Whooper Swans from Iceland and Bewick’s Swans from Arctic Russia migrate into UK and Ireland to spend the winter here. Telling these two black and yellow-billed swans apart can be tricky. Here we help you to separate these wild northern swans.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Bewick's Swan, provided by xeno-canto contributors.

Flight call


Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.

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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.




The species’ winter distribution is patchy, with most flocks occurring in southeastern England, and very few in Ireland, Wales or Scotland. Despite a relatively large number of occupied squares, significant flocks are concentrated in the fenlands of eastern Britain, chiefly around the Ouse Washes and Nene Washes (WeBS Report 2011), with smaller concentrations in parts of the west, especially the Severn Estuary.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Generally, there seems to have been an eastward shift in the wintering range of this population, as evidenced by the declines in Ireland and western Britain, which are on the western edge of the species’ Palearctic range. This is possibly caused by birds ‘short-stopping’ in continental Europe.


Bewick's Swans are winter visitors, though declining in abundance. They typically arrive in October and depart through March.

Weekly occurence of Bewick's Swan from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Bewick's Swan ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Bewick's Swan, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.



View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report



For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Eala-bheag
Welsh: Alarch Bewick
Catalan: cigne petit
Czech: labut malá
Danish: Pibesvane
Dutch: Kleine Zwaan
Estonian: väikeluik
Finnish: pikkujoutsen
French: Cygne siffleur
German: Zwergschwan
Hungarian: kis hattyú
Icelandic: Dvergsvanur
Irish: Eala Bewick
Italian: Cigno minore
Latvian: mazais gulbis
Lithuanian: mažoji gulbe
Norwegian: Dvergsvane
Polish: labedz czarnodzioby
Portuguese: cisne-pequeno
Slovak: labut malá
Slovenian: mali labod
Spanish: Cisne chico
Swedish: mindre sångsvan

Links to more information from

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