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Whoopers and Bewick's, can you spot the difference?

Posted on 23 Oct 2019

As the autumn draws in and birds are starting to make their way to the UK for winter, this week for Wildfowl Wednesday, we’ll be taking a look at the visiting Whooper swan.

Whoopers migrate from Iceland each year and are present from around late September to April, although a small numbers of Whoopers stay all year and sometimes breed in northern Scotland. We’ve already had reports of them arriving at our Caerlaverock, Martin Mere and Welney WWT Centres so keep your eyes on the skies! Whoopers aren’t the only swans making their way in however and soon the Bewick’s will be following suit. The two species can be difficult to tell apart at first glance, so here are some tips:

  • Whoopers are bigger than Bewick’s, measuring about 5 feet long and have a longer as apposed the small Berwick’s at 4 feet.
  • The Whooper has a wedge-shaped head and bill and the Bewick’s head is rounded.
  • When looking at the beak markings, Whoopers have a large wedge shaped yellow patch that extends down beyond the nostril and the Bewick’s have a small, rounded yellow patch.
  • In the air, Whoopers are large and slender whereas the Bewick’s are more compact.
  • Their calls are different too. Whoopers have a ‘Whonk-whonk’ contact call and Bewick’s have an excitable ‘Woo-woo’.
  • Bewick's have a shorter yellow patch on the beak, but add that they are split into 3 beak patterns which are named “yellow neb” “black neb” and “penny face.”

Hopefully, with these tips, you’ll be able to recognise who’s who in our seasonal visitors!

Pair of Whooper swans at Welney Wetland Centre

Main image - Bewick's swan at Slimbridge Wetland Centre, photo credit Malvin Hobbs