Whooper swans let their loud, trumpet-like calls be heard, especially when flying; hence they got their name.


What do whooper swans look like?

Whooper swans are slightly smaller than the normal mute swans, but look very much like them: they are white, large birds with a straight, long neck. The beak has a black tip and is colored bright yellow on the sides (it is orange-red in mute swans). Whooper swans are 140 to 150 centimeters long, have a wingspan of about 2 meters, and weigh up to 12 kilograms. Their feet are webbed.

Apart from the color of their beaks, whooper and mute swans can also be distinguished from one another by the way their necks are held. While mute swans usually keep their necks arched, whooper swans carry them straight and stretched high.

In addition, the transition from the forehead to the beak is straight; the mute swan has a hump at this point. Young whooper swans have brown-grey plumage and a flesh-colored, dark-tipped bill. Only when they grow up do they get white feathers.

Where do whooper swans live?

Whooper swans are found in northern Europe from Iceland through Scandinavia and Finland to northern Russia and Siberia. We find them mainly in northern Germany – but only in winter. Individual animals even migrate to the edge of the Alps and spend the winter there on larger lakes.

Whooper swans love water: they live by large lakes in the northern forests or on the tundra (those are far northern areas where no trees grow). But they also occur on flat sea coasts.

Which whooper swan species are there?

Swans belong to the geese family. The best known of them is the mute swan, which can be found on every park pond, the black swan, the black-necked swan, the trumpeter swan, and the miniature swan.


How do whooper swans live?

Whooper swans need large lakes to live because only here do they find their food. Their long neck is used for “grounding”; this means they dive head and neck under the water, scanning the bottom for food. On land, they move rather clumsily: with their short legs and webbed feet, they can only waddle like a duck.

On the other hand, whooper swans are good fliers: they usually fly in small groups, and the individual animals form a slanting line when they fly. Unlike mute swans, which flap their wings loudly when flying, whooper swans fly very quietly. Whooper swans are migratory birds but do not travel particularly long distances.

Many only commute back and forth between Scandinavia and northern Germany: they migrate north in spring to breed and then spend the winter with us. They usually return to the same hibernation sites. Males begin courting females as early as winter.

The two partners let their loud, trumpet-like calls be heard while swimming on the water, stand up in front of each other, spread their wings, and make snaking movements with their necks. Then both dip their beaks crosswise into the water and then mate. Then they fly to their breeding grounds. Once whooper swans have found a mate, they stay with them for life.

Friends and foes of the whooper swan

For a long time, whooper swans were heavily hunted by humans: they were mostly killed from boats. So they are very shy.

How do whooper swans reproduce?

To breed, whooper swans look for large territories on flat lake shores or in swampy river estuaries high up in northern Europe. Nest-building is the job of the female – she builds a large, pile-shaped nest out of twigs, reeds, and tufts of grass. The nests are usually located directly on the shore or on small islands. They are lined with downs – the soft, warming feathers that lie beneath the normal white feathers – to keep the eggs, and later the young, nice and warm.

Finally, the female lays an egg every other day. When it has laid five to six of the 11.5 centimeter large, cream-colored eggs, the mother swan starts incubating. This is usually the case between mid-May and mid-June. Then she sits on the eggs for 35 to 38 days. During this time she is guarded by the male (who does not breed).

Eventually the young hatch. Unlike the mute swans, they do not climb on their parents’ backs, but walk with them in single file across the meadows: first comes the mother, then the young swans, and finally the father. The little ones wear a gray feather dress made of soft down.

When they are a little bigger, they grow grey-brown plumage, and the white feathers only sprout in the first winter. When they are 75 days old, they learn to fly. In the second winter, their plumage is finally bright white: now the young swans are grown and are becoming sexually mature.

How do whooper swans communicate?

Whooper swans cannot be ignored: their loud, drawn-out calls are reminiscent of the sound of a trumpet or trombone.


What do whooper swans eat?

Whooper swans are strictly herbivores. They dig up the roots of aquatic plants with their beaks. On land, however, they also graze on grasses and herbs.

Keeping of whooper swans

Whooper swans are shy and need large territories. That’s why you never find them in parks; they are kept at most in zoological gardens. In addition, brooding whooper swans can become quite uncomfortable if you get too close to their nest: they will even attack people. In the zoo, they are fed with ready-made food or grains, boiled potatoes, and bread. They also get lots of greens such as grass, lettuce, or cabbage.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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