Whooper Swan

The Whooper Swan is one of my favourite birds, and now that autumn is fast approaching, they will soon be returning to spend the winter with us.

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus). © Ilkka / AdobeStock

A more beautiful sight would be hard to see as they swim so elegantly down the Kyle on a cold still winters day. I also love to listen to their melodic honking call and hearing their wings beat as they fly overhead. They are easily identifiable as they have yellow marking above their beak compared to the orange ones of a Mute Swan. Whoopers also tend to have a long straight elegant neck whilst the Mute is more curved.
This species of Swan travels to us from Iceland in the autumn and stays until the spring, when they then return to their breeding grounds. We are fortunate to have several birds that reside on the Kyle throughout the winter period. However, a few years ago I saw a Hooper whilst travelling on my canoe that was here in the summer time. It was paired with a Mute Swan, and with them was a young bird that was clearly a hybrid and must have been their youngster. Later in the season I realised whilst observing them that the female Whooper Swan had a damaged wing and could not fly properly. My guess is that she could not migrate because of her injury and had paired up with a resident Mute Swan and stayed.
This sparked my interest in the local group that arrive year after year to the same spot on the Kyle. In 2008, I photographed them to see if I could see the hybrid or the injured bird amongst them. On returning home and looking at the photos on the computer I couldn’t see the birds in question, but I did notice a bird with tag around its neck which had numbers recorded on it.  Something I had not spotted whilst watching them. After a lot of searching, we managed to find who to send the information to and shortly after we received a message back asking us if we could confirm that 55 was the number. A photographer friend enhanced the image to clearly show the tag and we sent the information back to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. They were delighted as it turned out the number 55 was a bird that had been ringed in Iceland fourteen years previously and had not been seen or recorded since the day it had been tagged.

Number 55. © Ashley Smith

Now I wonder where it had been all that time and how it had ended up in the Kyle of Sutherland. If you are birdwatching over the winter have a look at the flocks of swans and see if you can see number 55.

by Ashley Smith

Last Updated on 10 September, 2021 by Kyle Chronicle

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