If you were to picture a swan, I suspect that you’d imagine a mute swan. With their pure white plumage and distinctive orange bills, these serene birds are a year-round presence on our waterways and wetlands and the species of swan most familiar here in the UK.
These are the swans that you may well remember being a little nervous of as a child – and I’m sure many adults would readily admit to still finding the species’ somewhat belligerent attitude, particularly evident when food is on offer, a touch unnerving.
Whilst featured in tales of birds breaking people’s arms, the reality is that a swan’s wing bones are light and hollow making it likely that a whack from a wing would more likely injure the swan than an adult. I suspect that these tales are largely the stuff of urban myth and thankfully references to mute swan’s relative aggression are nicely offset by their reputation for romance, stemming from their habit of pairing for life.
The ‘mute’ element of their name relates to them being considered less noisy than other members of the swan family. With only one native species here, you might wonder how and when the comparison could be made. However, two other types of swan spend the winter here to take advantage of our relatively mild winters: the whooper swan, which travels from Iceland and the Bewick’s swan, which arrives from Arctic Russia.
Whooper swans sit between the Bewick’s and mute swans in size. They have a larger patches of yellow on their bill which form pointed “V” shapes on either side rather than the oval or rounded patches on those of Bewick’s. Bewick’s swans are the smallest swan species to visit the UK and are little bigger than Canada geese. They have a yellow pattern on their beaks and their honking call has been likened to the noise of an excited dog.
Your best chance to see Bewick’s and whooper swans is at the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Attenborough, Skylarks, Besthorpe or Idle Valley Nature Reserves as the birds make their way to and from their wintering grounds at the start and end of winter.
Our welcoming and spacious cafes at our Attenborough & Idle Valley Nature Reserves offer great opportunities to appreciate winter wetland wildlife whilst enjoying a hot drink or a bite to eat. Our Besthorpe reserve, just north of Newark, has a well-placed accessible wildlife watching hide that will protect you from the prevailing wind; whilst Skylarks Nature Reserve, near Holme Pierrepont, has a network of accessible paths and a number of wildlife viewing areas overlooking the lakes.
For details of our nature reserves and events across the county visit nottinghamshirewildlife.org