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06 Jun 2017

Largest family to date for Icelandic swan pair

Whooper swan pair with cygnets by Kim Tarsey    .

A pair of injured whooper swans have hatched a brood of five cygnets this summer at WWT Welney Wetland Centre.  The pair who first bred on the reserve in 2011 are unable to return to their natural breeding grounds in Iceland due to wing injuries, resulting in them being unable to fly.

This is the largest brood that these swans have had since they started breeding on the reserve.  The pair are hugely protective of their family so we hope they should stand a good chance of raising these cygnets to fledging over the summer.

Whooper swans are a familiar sight in the Fens each winter as thousands of these birds fly down from their breeding grounds in Iceland to escape the freezing temperatures.  They are a joy to watch, and fill the area with the sound of their calls as they fly between feeding grounds in the fields and roosting sites on wetlands.

Whooper swan and cygnets by Jane Rowe    .

This time of year the only whooper swans who remain on the reserve are those that cannot physically make the journey back to Iceland.  Wetland birds face many threats throughout their lifetime, whether that be at their breeding or wintering grounds or on migration.  Here in the Fens, one threat which can reduce their ability to fly is collisions with overhead cables.  WWT and UK Power Networks have a long-term partnership to increase the visibility of these wires and therefore reduce the chances of birds flying into them.

Leigh Marshall, Centre Manager at WWT Welney, said:

“It is great to see these birds breeding here, despite their injuries, and we look forward to watching the family grow over the coming weeks.

This pair have been resident at WWT Welney since at least 2007 when they were ringed, during one of the winter swan catches.  We hope to ring these young swans during the summer so that we can follow them in future years and find out what happens to the young of this pair.”

This particular pair of whooper swans have raised a total of six cygnets from three breeding attempts.  They favour the main lagoon at the moment and have often been seen on the water or the islands viewable from the main hide.  As the cygnets grow, the parents will take them further around the reserve to feed on plants and seeds, eventually bringing them back to the main lagoon in late October when the swan feeds begin.

  • Tell

    Very Interesting 🙂 How do the cygnets learn to fly when their parents can’t ? Also do the cygnets join another family when it’s time to migrate to Iceland ?

    • WWT

      Hi Tell, Thank you for your questions. The urge to fly in birds is, as you
      would imagine, very strong. When the cygnets get to fledging they do lots
      of wing flapping and stretching of their flight muscles, the parent birds do
      appear to help them with setting themselves up for take-off and we have
      observed the pair with young from previous years’ going through the process of
      getting air-borne. But whereas the young actually take to the skies, the
      parents come to rest at the end of the water.

      We’re not certain whether the cygnets from previous years have migrated back to
      Iceland or not, as we have never ringed these individuals, so they can’t be
      identified. However, we know there aren’t six free-flying whooper swans at
      Welney all year round, so it seems likely that they make some sort of local
      migration at the very least. We hope to ring the young from this year
      over the summer so that we will be able to identify them in the future, and
      hope that swan spotters at other sites nearby would be able to let us know if
      they come across the birds.

      We will keep you updated on any further news of them over the summer, and hope
      that you are able to come and see them here on the reserve.

      Many thanks,
      WWT Welney.

      • Tell

        Thanks for the reply to my question – most appreciated 🙂 Hope you can ring at least one of this years cygnets ( satellite tracker even better ) and find out if the do migrate to Iceland and hopefully also come back to Welney again 🙂