What is a Whooper Swan?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing
Whooper swans are most commonly found in wetlands and lakes.
Whooper swans are most commonly found in wetlands and lakes.

A whooper swan is an extremely large breed of swan that is primarily found in the northern hemisphere in parts of Europe and Asia. Its scientific name is Cygnus cygnus. It is often compared to the North American trumpeter swan and the Bewick's swan — it's thought of as the Eurasian version of the former. It is the national bird of Finland, appearing on the one euro coin. It was also the first known casualty of the bird flu in the United Kingdom in 2006.

The whooper swan has a large, heavy body with a long neck that it usually holds straight and upright. Its weight typically ranges between 17.5 and 44 pounds (8 to 20 kg), it has a length of 55 to 63 inches (140 to 160 cm), with a wingspan of 81 to 110 inches (205 to 275 cm). It is larger than the Bewick's swan, which is one of the primary distinguishing features between the two. Its feathers are all white, and it has an angularly shaped head, yellow and black beak, and short, thin black legs with black webbed feet. The yellow and black pattern on the beak is different for each individual bird, functioning almost like a human fingerprint and allowing the identification of specific birds.

The preferred climate for the whooper swan is quite cold. It spends the warm months in sub arctic regions of Europe and Asia, and migrates in the winter to areas like Scotland, northern England, Ireland, and Iceland. The swan prefers wetlands and lakes, and it spends most of its time in the water since its legs can only support its massive body for short periods of time.

The diet of the whooper swan consists mainly of aquatic plants and small invertebrates. It glides through the water, and submerges its head to eat plants from the bottom. It also strains the water for food. When they are near civilization Whooper Swans will also eat grains and bread.

During migration, the whooper swan flies in a "V" formation in flocks with other swans. The flight is direct, and these birds typically migrate long distances, stopping to rest at bodies of water along the way. They usually migrate south for the winter in October or November and return to breeding grounds in March or April.

The whooper swan mates for life, and frequently the babies, called cygnets, stay with their parents for extended periods of time. The swans usually nest in secluded areas near water, with the male bird building the nest. The female bird lays about four to seven eggs, and the male bird stands guard while she incubates them for approximately 36 days. At birth, the cygnets are a grayish brown color, they will lose these feathers and grow white ones as they mature. The cygnets are able to fly after about four to five months.

Discussion Comments


Was the Whooper Swan once called an Elk?


@dill1971: The whooper swan and the mute swan do have similarities. However, the neck and the head differ in that the whooper swan’s neck is a good bit straighter than the mute swan, which has an “s” shape neck. Also, the forehead knob of the mute swan is not there and the line going from the crown of the head to the end of the bill is very straight.


Aren't whooping swans very similar in appearance to mute swans?


I wonder if whooper swans, like trumpeter swans, are very dangerous. North Americans often think of swans as pure and loving creatures, when actually they are violent and territorial. I have even heard of people who tried to buy swans to keep as pets, which is not a good idea.

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    • Whooper swans are most commonly found in wetlands and lakes.
      By: Elenathewise
      Whooper swans are most commonly found in wetlands and lakes.