Bewick’s swans in Co Roscommon

Bewick’s swans are Europe’s smallest swan, and they are becoming an increasingly rare visitor to Ireland. They fly from their breeding ground in the Russian Arctic tundra to Ireland, and other parts of western Europe, to over-winter.  Bewicks’s swan is a red-listed species in Ireland due to a severe decline in the number wintering here. The number of them visiting here has been significantly declining since the late 1990’s. Just eighty Bewicks’s swans were counted during the 2010 national survey – in comparison with thousands in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The latest national census took place in January 2013 and, although results are not yet available, Birdwatch Ireland has said that it expects that numbers of Bewicks’s swans recorded will have continued to drop markedly.

The four Bewick’s swans we recorded in Roscommon are likely to be individuals which migrated the furthest west in Europe this winter

The European wintering population has declined in several countries and consequently is regarded as Vulnerable. Although their numbers have been negatively affected by factors such as habitat loss, hunting, lead-shot poisoning, and powerline collisions, it seems that the numbers visiting Ireland and the United Kingdom has also been affected by climate change. Due to milder winters, these swans may now find suitable wintering sites in areas such as Holland, and around the Baltic, and no may longer need to migrate as far west as Ireland. This would also allow them to avoid the very risky return flight across the sea and enjoy a shorter trip back to their breeding grounds in the spring. However, their decline in Ireland and UK is a matter of concern and is currently being investigated.

ECOFACT staff recorded up to four Bewick’s swans at turlough sites in Co Roscommon , during our ongoing winter bird surveys in January and early February 2015.  The four Bewick’s swans we recorded are likely to be individuals which migrated the furthest west in Europe this winter.  Our observations at these turlough sites in Co Roscommon is therefore significant.  We have seen Bewick’s swans at this site before, and have been monitoring it now for a number of years.  We are delighted to have recorded these rare birds and will be monitoring their movements over the next couple of months as part of our ongoing winter bird surveys.

Bewick's and Whooper Swan (right) in Co Roscommon, February 2015

Bewick’s and Whooper Swan (right) in Co Roscommon, February 2015. There was a group of 4 Bewick’s at this site in early February 2015.

Whooper and Bewick's swans

The four Bewick’s swans were grazing with a larger flock of Whooper Swans.

Bewick's-Swan

Bewick’s swans at a turlough site in Co Roscommon, January 2015. We recorded two individuals on this day at a nearby turlough.

Bewick's swans in the same area during January 2013. Their heads are dirty from feeding in the wet grass.

Bewick’s swans in the same area during January 2013. Their heads are dirty from feeding in the wet grass.

Bewick’s swans are distinguishable from fellow migrant whooper swans by their smaller size and small yellow patch on their black bills, rather than the whooper’s yellow wedge. For more information on their identification please see these links:-

Also see the following news reports which draw attention to the decline of Bewick’s swans in the UK and Ireland.

For further information on our current winter bird surveys please see here.  Also, contact us at info@ecofact.ie if you have any queries.

Also look out for current news items on our main website at ECOFACT NEWS.

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