Swan catching

This week was ‘catch week’. Every winter, we try and catch a number of Bewick’s swans at Slimbridge. Our monitoring is usually very hands off and involves us creeping around in hides in efforts to study the swans’ natural behaviours unbeknown to them. Although we can recognise the swans by their bill patterns here at Slimbridge, they essentially become anonymous as soon as they leave the reserve. Unless of course, they are sporting rings on their legs. Each leg-ring has a unique code which enables the swans to be recognised by observers across their migratory route.

We had been monitoring the weather for a few days prior to the catch and decided that Tuesday was the day. Temperatures were dipping and we predicted that this would make the swans eager for food and more likely to follow the feed barrow up the trap known as the ‘swan-pipe’. On the day though, anything can happen. The smallest disturbance can flush the birds from the trap and this can happen at any time. Or perhaps the resident mute swans would be irritated that the Bewick’s had dared share the swan-pipe and chase them out (this has happened several times before...). As we all gathered on Tuesday morning, conditions remained good. All we needed was a bit of luck on our side.

Fortunately luck was on our side and we were able to catch and ring ten adult Bewick’s swans, 10% of the number presently at Slimbridge. We also took the opportunity to check the body condition of the birds, to undertake various types of health screening and to X-ray them to see whether they had been illegally shot at. We were thrilled to fit a new ring to Croupier. At 26 years, he is the oldest swan here this winter.

However, we were sad to discover from the X-ray that Croupier is carrying a shotgun pellet in his neck. Fortunately, the shot appears close to the skin’s surface and so may not necessarily pose any great danger. His long-term mate Dealer failed to arrive at Slimbridge this winter and we are now wondering whether she was also shot on migration… This serves as a powerful reminder that despite Bewick’s swans being fully protected across their migratory route, illegal shooting still occurs. We are currently working with hunters across the flyway to tackle this issue.

Croupier with shot (WWT)

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