One of the oldest Icelandic whooper swans on record has been discovered in Pembrokeshire, having spent nearly three decades on Earth.
RSPCA Cymru was alerted after a member of the public found the male swan stranded under power lines in the Letterson area of the county on April 1, following a suspected collision.
Other swans—supposed to join the swan on a return flight to Iceland—circled above the stricken swan; which 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 Birds of Prey and Swans Rescue Center in Amroth for immediate care, before the bird passed a veterinary examination.
Unfortunately, x-rays revealed the swan had a fractured spine and ribs – and vets decided he must be asleep.
However, the RSPCA takes “some comfort” in the fact that the interventions – including from the member of the public who found the bird – meant the pain and suffering of the swan was not prolonged.
The swan wore an Icelandic metal ring. These are identification rings placed around the legs of swans that help build a picture of the life lived by these animals.
ARO West contacted the Icelandic Bird Banding Centre, which uses banding to study birds and their migrations, which confirmed the swan was “very close to Iceland’s oldest singer”; having been banded for the first time in 1996 at the age of just three.
The oldest recorded Icelandic singer is believed to be 30 years old – so only about a year older than the veteran bird found in Pembrokeshire.
The British Trust of Ornithology states that the typical lifespan of a whooper swan is only nine years; but have records of one living over 28 years after being first banded.
ARO West said: ‘When I rushed to the rescue of this swan I was expecting a mute wwan, which we commonly deal with – but I was instead surprised to see a whooper swan, which is a sight a lot rarer for our inspection.
“Unfortunately, the poor fellow was in very poor condition after colliding with 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 be reassured that we were able to put an end to his suffering.
“I noticed the bird was wearing a metal Icelandic ring and was fascinated by its story. I contacted the Icelandic Bird Banding Center, who confirmed that the bird had been ringed at age three years old in 1996 – making him, in their words, “very close to Iceland’s oldest singer” – who we believe was 30 years old.
“It’s so incredible to think that this beautiful bird – one of the oldest Icelandic whooper swans on record – has potentially been migrating between Iceland and West Wales for decades.”
Whooper swans usually visit the UK in winter. The RSPB says its “small breeding number makes it an Orange List species”, and says the swan’s “honking voice…may sound like an old-fashioned car horn!”
Population estimates – confirmed by the Icelandic Bird Banding Center – suggest there are around 40,000 whooper swans wintering in the UK.
Svenja Auhage from the Icelandic Bird Banding Center added: “Swan banding helps identify the lives these amazing animals lead.
“While it is so sad that this whooper swan is now dead, sighting history shows that since the mid-1990s this bird has traveled extensively!
“Sightings have been made in both County Londonderry and County Antrim in Northern Ireland, Skagafjordur in Iceland, parts of the Republic of Ireland and Orkney in Scotland; before it was found in Pembrokeshire – 18 years after the last recorded sighting, at Ballyscullion in 2003! We suspect he must have lost his darvic ring shortly after 2003, as there were no sightings after that.
The bird wore a metal Icelandic ring (Photo courtesy of the RSPCA ) (Photo courtesy of the RSPCA)