Site selection by swans wintering in Britain and Ireland; The importance of habitat and geographic location



Rees EC, Kirby JS & Gilburn A (1997) Site selection by swans wintering in Britain and Ireland; The importance of habitat and geographic location. Ibis, 139 (2), pp. 337-352.

Monthly surveys of Bewick's Swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii, Whooper Swans Cygnus cygnus and Mute Swans Cygnus olor in Britain and Ireland were made during the 1990-1991 winter to determine factors affecting the swans' selection of feeding sites. Geographic location and habitat both influenced site selection. Whooper Swans occurred in greatest numbers at sites in Scotland, northeastern England and Northern Ireland, whereas Bewick's Swans had a more southerly distribution, reflecting differences in the migratory routes used by these two species. The resident Mute Swans were more widespread, with large flocks occurring in southeastern England and in parts of Scotland. Whooper and Mute Swans were found mainly on permanent inland waters (68% and 61%, respectively), but the majority of Bewick's Swans (60%) were on arable land. The percentage of Bewick's Swan flocks found on permanent inland waters (42%) was higher than that found on arable fields (23%), indicating that the large number recorded on arable land was a result of the birds congregating at a comparatively small number of sites. Overall, less than 15% of Whooper Swans and 3% of Mute Swans were on arable crops during the winter, but the largest flocks were associated with arable land for all three species. Thus, although the occurrence of large flocks at particular arable sites may give an impression that swans feed mainly on farmland, the swans are in fact more widely dispersed. Regional variation in the percentage of juveniles present was recorded for all three species. Changes during the winter in the distribution of juveniles, and of the swans as a whole, are considered in relation to food supply and to migratory routes for the Bewick's and Whooper Swans.

Ibis: Volume 139, Issue 2

Publication date30/04/1997

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Dr Andre Gilburn

Dr Andre Gilburn

Senior Lecturer, Biological and Environmental Sciences