New Iceland Whooper Swan colour-marking effort

By Kane Brides

The Iceland Whooper Swan has been intensively studied through a long-term life history study undertaken by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in collaboration with Sverrir Thorstensen, Ólafur Einarsson, the Icelandic Institute for Natural History (IINH) and the Irish Whooper Swan Study Group.

The study commenced in 1989 which saw several thousand birds captured and ringed both on the breeding/summering grounds in Iceland and also at wintering sites in Britain and Ireland. In 2021 the WWT announced its termination in the involvement of the study to prioritise work effort in other areas of wetland conservation. This, twinned with a reduction in catching effort in Iceland, Britain and Ireland in recent years, has seen fewer colour-marked Whooper Swans in the population.

In an attempt to bolster the numbers colour-marked and to continue collecting data to contribute to the demographic monitoring of the population, the Waterbird Colour-marking Group have teamed up with Sverrir Thorstensen to continue catching and colour-marking birds in Iceland. The group’s activities sees targeted catch effort taking place at non-breeding moulting flocks in northern Iceland along with catching family groups consisting of breeding pairs and their cygnets.

Kane Brides, Sverrir Thorstensen, Scott Petrek and Stephen Vickers.

August 2023 saw the first fieldwork expedition of the new colour-marking study with Kane Brides, Scott Petrek and Stephen Vickers travelling to Iceland to work with Sverrir Thorstensen. Overall, 480 Whooper Swans were caught of which 42 were recaptures (from previous catches) and 438 were new birds which have been ringed with white leg rings (black lettering). Sightings of birds carrying white colour-rings should be reported to www.waterbirdcolourmarking.org (report a bird page), where on submission of sightings to this platform, observers are instantly provided with life histories and a map of movements.