One of the oldest Icelandic whooper swans on record has been found in Pembrokeshire – having spent almost three decades on Earth.
RSPCA Cymru was alerted after a member of the public found the male swan grounded underneath power lines in the Letterson area of the county on 1 April, after a suspected collision.
Other swans – believed to be joining the swan on a flight back to Iceland – were circling above the stricken swan; who was then confined by a member of the public before RSPCA rescuers were contacted.
RSPCA animal rescue officer (ARO) Ellie West rushed him to Tinker’s Hill Bird of Prey & Swan Rescue Centre in Amroth for immediate care, before the bird went on for veterinary examination.
Sadly, X-rays revealed the swan had a fractured spine and ribs – and vets decided he had to be put to sleep. However, the RSPCA take “some solace” in the fact that interventions – including from the member of the public who found the bird – meant the swan’s pain and suffering was not prolonged.
The swan was wearing an Icelandic metal ring. These are identifying rings placed around the legs of swans which help build a picture of the lives lived by these animals.
ARO West contacted the Icelandic Bird Ringing Centre, which uses ringing to study birds and their migrations, who confirmed that the swan was “very close to the oldest Icelandic whooper”; having first been ringed in 1996 at the age of only three.
The oldest Icelandic whooper on record is believed to be 30 years old – so only a year or so older than the veteran bird found in Pembrokeshire.
The British Trust of Ornithology states the typical lifespan of a whooper swan is only nine years; but do have records of one living more than 28 years after first being ringed.
ARO West said: “When I rushed to the aid of this swan, I was expecting a mute wwan, which we commonly deal with – but was instead surprised to see a whooper swan, which is a much rarer sight for our inspectorate.
“Sadly, the poor thing was in quite a bad way after a collision with some power lines. Vets later found his injuries were so severe – including a fractured spine and ribs – that he had to be put to sleep; which was such a shame – but at least we can take some solace that we were able to bring his suffering to an end.
“I noticed the bird was wearing a metal Icelandic ring, and was fascinated about his story. I reached out to the Icelandic Bird Ringing Centre, who confirmed the bird had been ringed at the age of three back in 1996 – making him, in their words, ‘very close to the oldest Icelandic whooper’ – who we believe to have been 30.
“It’s so amazing to think this beautiful bird – one of the oldest Icelandic whooper swans on record – has been potentially migrating between Iceland and West Wales for decades.”
Whooper swans usually visit the UK in Winter. The RSPB say its “small breeding numbers make it an Amber List species”, and say the swan’s” honking voice … can sound like an old-fashioned car horn!”
Population estimates – confirmed by the Icelandic Bird Ringing Centre – suggest there are approximately 40,000 whooper swans wintering in the UK.
Svenja Auhage, from the Icelandic Bird Ringing Centre, added: “Ringing swans helps identify the lives these amazing animals lead.
“While it’s so sad this whooper swan has now died, the sighting history shows that since the mid-1990s, this bird was very well travelled!
“Sightings have been made in both County Londonderry and County Antrim in Northern Ireland, in Skagafjordur in Iceland, in parts of the Republic of Ireland and in Orkney in Scotland; before he was found in Pembrokeshire – 18 years on from the last logged sighting, in Ballyscullion in 2003! We suspect he must have lost his darvic ring shortly after 2003, since there were no sightings after that.”