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Whooper Swan

A winter visitor to Britain and an occasional visitor to Dorset

Photograph by: 
Steve Groves

Whooper Swan: What a whopper

The whooper swan's nickname among "birders" is the whopper. This obvious corruption of whooper is not without some justification however as it is the biggest of the three swans that are regularly seen in Britain. Its yellow and black bill tells it apart from the much more common mute swan but separating it from the Bewick's swan is a bit more difficult. The Bewick's too has a yellow and black bill but the whooper is a somewhat bigger, sturdier bird. That said I still find it hard to separate them are they are hardly ever seen side buy side to compare size.

A winter visitor to our shores from their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra of Iceland and Scandinavia, the whooper is more frequently seen in northern Britain, especially in Scotland but when the weather gets really severe 'up north' a very small number venture south and can be seen in Dorset. It is generally seen on damp fields near the sea but does take to the water to feed. The whooper swan makes a load trumpeting call and that is where it name derives from.

The reporting chart for this species is distorted and does not give a true view of its presence here. In the winter of 2018/9 a whooper got caught in netting on a fish farm near Bridport (at least that is how I understand it) and after a few days unable to escape a crew from the Swannery stepped in and where able to free it and give the medical care it needed to recover. Although thankfully fully fit again it has stayed at the Swannery during the summer of 2019 and for a while it was regularly reported on Twitter but it has become 'part of the furniture' there and now rarely gets a mention but as far as I am aware it is still there as of September 2019 living happily with the resident mute swans for company. Whether will continue to live with its adopted cousins or get the urge to leave and fly north again only time will tell.



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

A large swan with a yellow and black bill

Identification Notes
  • It has a yellow and black bill rather than red like the more common mute swan
  • Similar to the similar Bewick's swan but somewhat larger
  • Seldom seen in Dorset so take care with identifcation
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