Garner the Bewick’s Swan

With rare silver -grey iris

The old chart on the wall at Slimbridge, illustrating the unique bill pattern of individual Bewick’s Swans. Each is also given its own personal name.

Many years ago – actually February 1964 (1 month after I was born and  its my birthday tomorrow!); so many many years ago, Peter Scott realised that, like the proverbial Snow Flake, the pattern of black and yellow on every Bewick’s Swan is unique. Since then the exact pattern of every new Bewick’s Swan appearing recorded at Slimbridge has been carefully illustrated. Each year returning birds are noted and studied.

I saw “Winterling”, a female Bewick’s, first recorded in 1981. Now having returned for 28 years she is the oldest known Bewick’s at Slimbridge. If she comes back next year she will be a Guinness- style record breaker; the longest lived Bewick’s Swan known to humankind.

Slimbridges’ current ‘Swan-lady’ is Julia Newth. Here she is pointing out ‘Winterling’.

So may I introduce you to the Bewick’s Swan named ‘Garner’. Julia picked out this new and undocumented yearling (2nd winter bird). It has been given its own personal name. ‘Garner’!

It is possible to age 2nd winter Bewick’s Swans by grey flecking over the head and neck  as on ‘Garner Swan’!

There are 3 categories of Bewick’s Swan  recorded at Slimbridge:

Black neb

Yellow neb

and Penny face.

I will let you work out why each one is so-named. ‘Garner’ is a yellow neb. It also has an unusual feature. It has a silver-grey iris, much paler than the normal darker, brown iris of most adult Bewick’s Swans. Only about 5% of adults have a silver iris.

When I get Garner Swan’s proper drawings I will put them up.  Maybe you will see it somewhere! I prophecy a long and prosperous life for ‘Garner’ with many returns to winter at Slimbridge-I hope! Let me know if you see it.

6 thoughts on “Garner the Bewick’s Swan

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Bewick’s Swan | Birding Frontiers --

  2. Dominic Mitchell

    Hi Martin, congratulations on your own personalised swan – far better than a number plate! You’ve probably already seen it, but in case not there’s an interesting paper by Mlodinow and Schwitters in the latest North American Birds (64: 4-15) on the status of Bewick’s Swan in North America, including an examination of the criteria for separating Blacknebs from Whistling Swans. I assume it is the former which are responsible for occasional past erroneous reports of the latter in Britain; it would be interesting to know which of the bill types is commonest over here. All the best, Dominic

    1. Martin Garner

      Hi Dominic

      No haven’t seen it but sounds very interesting. The Tundra/ Whistling Swans over here have been somewhat contentious at least (inc. that bird in the Netherlands). There was a credible sounding Whistling when I live in N Ireland which arrived with Whoopers. Is the article on-line or mag only?


  3. Jessie Barry

    Hi Martin,

    Very cool! I love the chart. Do you know if gray flecking is on all second-years or just some? And does it hold true for Whistling Swans? I haven’t noticed it on Whistling Swan, but many of the swans I see are far enough away that I suspect it would be easy to miss.

    Jessie Barry
    Ithaca, NY


Leave a Reply