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Bewick's Swan

The smallest swan seen in the UK, they arrive in Britain in mid-October after spending the breeding season in Siberia. It has more black on its bill than mute and whooper swans and is considerably smaller and more like a goose in shape.

They breed in the Arctic and cygnets stay with their parents all winter and the family group can be joined by offspring from previous years. Family groups of up to 15 have been recorded. They normally breed for life and some are consistently successful at breeding.

The Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire has a winter population of some 9000 birds, with over 3600 at WWT Welney.

In summer their diet consists mainly of aquatic vegetation and eaten while swimming, at other times of year they also eat grains from open fields. When migrating they can fly at altitudes of nearly 27,000ft.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Slimbridge have been studying this breed over nearly 40 years.

As they can be identified by their unique bill pattern, each individual is given a unique name by researchers and their bill pattern drawn and added to their database. This research allows them to identify patterns, movements and behaviour to be monitored. Each Bewick at Slimbridge is ringed and allows them to be identified when abroad and allows each birds global movements and relationships to be studied. Numbers at Slimbridge are declining from a peak in 1979 of around 610 visitors, now to only around 300 each winter.


They are the smallest swan species to visit the UK, not very much bigger than a Canada goose. They are around 115-146cm in length and have a wing span of 170-195cm weighing around 4-9.5kg. They are similar in appearance to Whooper Swans, but are smaller and have a shorter neck and more rounded head shape. Their bill has more black than yellow on it and has a more blunt front edge. They have more oval, rounded yellow patches on either side of their bill. Their calls are more reminiscent of an excited dog.

Bewick Swan Facts

In Britain: October-March

Habitat: Mainly in Eastern England, around Severn estuary and in Lancashire such as Martin Mere WWT, with most found at the Ouse and Nene Washes (Cambridgeshire), and Slimbridge WWT (Glous).

Food: leaves, shoots and roots

Breeding: not in UK

Conservation Status

Least Concern

For a list of most recent UK sightings see the Birdguides website.

Also See:


Where to Photograph Swans (Location List)

Mute Swan  

Whooper Swan

Swan Upping - the ancient annual census of Mute Swans on the River Thames


By: Tracey Park Section: Key:
Page Ref: bewick_swan Topic: Wildlife  Last Updated: 08/2013

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