Whooper Swan

Cygnus cygnus (Linnaeus, 1758) WS WHOSW 1540
Family: Anseriformes > Anatidae

Whooper Swan, Liz Cutting

The Whooper Swan is a familiar winter visitor across much of Britain and Ireland, though is less commonly encountered in the more southern counties.

A large swan, with a triangular yellow bill patch, and a straight-necked look, the Whooper Swan has a more northerly wintering distribution within Britain & Ireland than its smaller relative. An increase in the Icelandic breeding population is thought to be behind the increasing numbers reported by the Wetland Bird Survey and evident in latest atlas results.

There are few records of Whooper Swans breeding in the UK, although Bird Atlas 2007–11 recorded successful breeding in south-east England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Whilst some birds probably originate from captive stock, the Shetland breeding records indicate an expansion of the arctic population.


Whooper Swan identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Whooper 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 Whooper Swan, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


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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 Whooper Swan is predominantly a winter visitor to the UK with wintering numbers increasing in line with increases in the Icelandic breeding population (link to WeBS; Brides et al. 2021). It is a scarce breeding species for which numbers are monitored by the RBBP. Numbers have increased strongly over the 25 years to 2019 with around 30 pairs now breeding, mostly in Scotland (Eaton et al. 2021).


The general pattern of winter distribution of the Whooper Swan remains consistent with the 1981–84 Winter Atlas, with the largest numbers of occupied squares in more northerly areas of both Britain and Ireland. There are relatively few records of breeding Whooper Swans in Britain and Ireland. The map of breeding distribution shows confirmed records in southeast England, the northern part of Ireland and Scotland. Some are known to stem from injured birds remaining to summer and breed but confirmed records on Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, could reflect an expansion in the species breeding range.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2


The winter change map shows that much of the central and north central areas in Ireland, and south and central Scotland, remained occupied during both winter atlases. Some range expansion in southern areas is evident, particularly in southeast England. Range increases of 35% and a 16% were identified in Britain and Ireland respectively. These results are consistent with an increase in the Icelandic breeding population of the Whooper Swan, which winters exclusively in Britain & Ireland.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Whooper Swans are most often seen in winter, but can occasionally be seen in the breeding season: some injured wintering birds remain to summer, and there is also a small northern breeding population.

Weekly occurence of Whooper 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 Whooper 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 Whooper 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-fhiadhaich
Welsh: Alarch y Gogledd
Catalan: cigne cantaire
Czech: labut zpevná
Danish: Sangsvane
Dutch: Wilde Zwaan
Estonian: laululuik
Finnish: laulujoutsen
French: Cygne chanteur
German: Singschwan
Hungarian: énekes hattyú
Icelandic: Álft
Irish: Eala Ghlórach
Italian: Cigno selvatico
Latvian: ziemelu gulbis
Lithuanian: gulbe giesmininke
Norwegian: Sangsvane
Polish: labedz krzykliwy
Portuguese: cisne-bravo
Slovak: labut spevavá
Slovenian: labod pevec
Spanish: Cisne cantor
Swedish: sångsvan


Interpretation and scientific publications about Whooper Swan from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

The cause of the increase in breeding records is unclear. Some breeding records result from injured birds being unable to migrate back to Iceland, but others may reflect an expansion of the breeding range resulting from the growth of the Icelandic population (Balmer et al. 2013, Eaton et al. 2021). The population and range in Fennoscandia is also increasing, and the increases of both populations have been attributed to protection from hunting and the availability of agricultural land as a source of food during winter (Deinet et al. 2013, Eaton et al. 2021).

Links to more information from ConservationEvidence.com

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