Return of the Whooper Swan

It’s fantastic to see and hear Whooper Swan on Loch Leven as they return back for the winter. They first arrived at Loch Leven on the 23rd of September, which is slightly later than the average (normally they arrive mid-September).

Family of Whooper Swans at Loch Leven (c) Julie McDonald

Whooper Swan can be told apart by our resident Mute Swan by the colour of their bill. Adult Whooper Swan have a bright yellow bill, juveniles with a bright pink bill. The familiar adult Mute Swan has an Orange Bill and the juvenile Mute Swan has a grey/black bill. A big giveaway to what species you are looking at is also noise! Whooper Swan are very vocal, making lots of ‘honks’ and ‘hoots’. Mute Swan are less vocal (hence the name) although not mute, they do make lots of hissing and grunting noises that can be heard when you are in close proximity.

Adult Whooper Swan with Canada Goose in foreground.
Very elegant Swans!

The population of Whooper Swan that migrate to the UK in winter spend the summer breeding in the sub-arctic tundra of Iceland. They spend the short arctic summer raising young on lochans in the highlands of Iceland before departing on an 800 mile crossing across the Atlantic, this is the longest known sea crossing of any swan species. Swan families will travel together, and you can see this years juveniles feeding alongside the parents. Usually we get the non-breeding birds arriving first and then the families follow on behind a few days later.


The Icelandic population of Whooper Swan are doing really well, they have increased from 16,000 birds in the 1980s to 43,000 birds in 2020! At Loch Leven we normally see around 300-400 Whooper Swan every winter. Our record was of 804 in November 2013!

It’s so lovely to welcome back our Whooper Swans. If you are walking around the trail near Findatie or Loch Levens Larder. Then listen out for their characteristic honks and hoots, it’s a fantastic ‘soundscape’ and really highlights that Autumn is here!

About SimonR

I am a keen naturalist/wildlife conservationist from North-East Scotland. I work at Loch Leven National Nature Reserve as a Reserve Officer and have a deep interest in conservation and wildlife management in Scotland. Keen Birder, naturalist and practical habitat management enthusiast.
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1 Response to Return of the Whooper Swan

  1. Anne says:

    It must give you all great joy to witness their arrival : a sign that all is well in the world of nature.

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