Comparison of nest site selection in Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) and the expanding Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

By W. Szewczuk & Z. Kasprzykowski

The warming climate is giving migratory birds new opportunities to extend their breeding ranges. These expansions may have a significant impact on other local bird communities. Here, we investigate the nest site selection of Mute Swan Cygnus olor, and the expanding Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus.

A Mute swan (Cygnus olor) with cygnets. Photo by Tom Langlands.

The study aims to assess the differences in habitat use by these two swan species in a lowland anthropogenic landscape. It examines the number of breeding pairs and the surface areas of nesting zones in different habitat types.

The field procedures involved the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to survey and locate nests, with geotagged photographs taken to map nest locations.

The results show that Mute Swans primarily occupy oxbows, while Whooper Swans predominantly nest in pond complexes. Moreover, GLM models indicate that Mute Swans tend to choose open areas within a radius of 200 m around the nests, whereas Whooper Swans avoid built-up areas, often choosing forested sites within a radius of 500 m of their nests.

A Whooper swan. Photo by Richard Taylor-Jones

These findings suggest that the expansion of the Whooper Swan population has led to changes in the breeding behaviour and habitat use of sympatric Mute Swan populations. The territorial behaviour and aggression of Whooper Swan may be driving Mute Swan away from fishpond habitats. We conclude that interactions between the two swan species are dynamic and have not yet stabilized, so this is an issue that needs to be closely monitored. Understanding these dynamics is essential for the effective conservation and management of wetland habitats in the face of ongoing climate change and shifting breeding ranges of birds.

The full article can be found here