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Bewicks Swan

A wintering species in Britain but few seem to venture in to Dorset


Photograph by: 
Internet Open Source

I suspect that the Bewick's swan is best known for their association with the famous artist and naturalist Sir Peter Scott. They regularly visited the lake outside of Sir Peter's studio and he was fond of painting them and in the process he noticed that each swan had different patterns of markings on their bills. This led him to paint each swan's markings and then to give each a name and over the years he was able to identify individuals and monitor their return and departure dates as well as family relationships and other details. Differentiating between individuals by markings and physical features is now common place in biological studies but this was quite unique back in Sir Peter's day in the 1950's and 60's. Sir Peter's studio was at his home in Slimbridge in Gloucestershire which is now, in no small way, thanks to the Bewick's swans the headquarters of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and thousands visit each year where the Bewicks continue to be a major attraction on Swan Lake.

The Bewick's swan nests in the Arctic tundra and makes the journey south each autumn with about a third of the entire population coming to Britain and whilst many end up at Slimbridge for the winter very few come to Dorset where they continue to be a rare vagrant species; in some winters they are not reported here at all.

They are smaller and more streamlined than the mute swan and have yellow and black bills rather than red so are easily told apart but sorting Bewick's from the similar is whooper swan is less easy. 



Bewick's Swan: Scott free

Common Name Bewicks Swan
Scientific Name Cygnus columbianus
Species Group Birds Swans
Status Very rare
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

An elegant swan with a yellow bill that is a little smaller than the famiar mute swan

Identification Notes
  • It has a yellow and black bill rather than red like the more common mute swan
  • It is similar to the whooper swan but somewhat smaller
  • Rarely seen in Dorset so take care with identification 
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Swans