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Why it’s important to catch and ring swans

It is mid summer and a small band of intrepid scientists are heading up to one of the most remote regions of our planet - Russia's arctic tundra, land of the midnight sun.


These scientists from the Nenetskiy Nature Reserve will be carrying out work which they hope will help save a population in decline - catching and ringing Bewick's.

Ringing Bewick's is vital.  It enables our dedicated network of swan spotters who live along the swans' flyway, to identify and report sightings of individual birds as they stop off across their migratory route.  Understanding how individual swans feed, breed and migrate means we are better placed to know what action to take to protect them from further decline.

But first the swans need to be caught and that's easier said than done. Luckily WWT and our partners along the flyway have 50 years experience.

So here's how it's done.


Catching a swan

First, these highly skilled, licensed ringers make their way up to the birds' breeding grounds in the arctic tundra.  It's an almost impossible journey that takes them over incredibly challenging terrain.

It's vital the visit is timed to coincide with the swans' annual moult that takes place tween mid July and mid August.  It's during this time the birds lose their flight and tail feathers and so can't fly for several weeks, making them easier to catch.

Next there is a perilous boat journey out to where the flightless swans are staying safe on the water out of predators' way.  Then, armed only with a net, it's a question of leaning precariously out over the water to catch the unsuspecting swan.


Ringing your swan

Once caught, the swans are wrapped carefully in swan jackets to protect them, before rings are applied to their legs.


A metal ring carries the bird's unique code and an address where the sightings can be reported.  Because they can be hard to read, a second brightly coloured plastic ring, also unique to each bird, is also attached to make identification from a distance easier.


As well as adding the ring, this is also an opportunity to weigh and measure the swans to assess body condition and health, before returning them to the wild.


Now it's time to sit tight and wait for reports of Bewick's sightings to start coming in.

Why ring?

Since WWT started ringing Bewick's in the 1970s there have been hundreds of thousands of sightings, both in the UK and abroad.  And thanks to the information provided by our ring readers we have been able to build up a fantastic picture of the individual lives of these iconic birds.

We know Bewick's swan Butters is a particular fan of Denmark's wetlands, as she has been spotted stopping off there on both her spring and autumn migrations.  Daisy Clarke is regularly sighted on the White Sea, where she rests and refuels during her spring migration to the arctic breeding grounds. While Maisie, along with thousands of other Bewick's, uses Lake Peipsi in Estonia as her first stop off after leaving the Russian arctic on the journey back to Europe.

Read more about our swan's stories here:

Long term monitoring, including analysis of our ringing data, helps us to understand reasons for changes in Bewick's swan populations over time. Additionally, if we know which wetlands the birds use along the flyway, we can then focus our attention on the most important ones and target the governments responsible for protecting them.

Get involved

Swans have fascinating lives.  With the help of just a pair of binoculars or a telescope, it's easy to identify a swan from its leg ring.  We already have a fantastic network of ring readers, but it is an incredibly important job and we need more.  Why not get involved and help us save this iconic bird?

We are always on the look out for new volunteers and in return for any sightings reported to WWT, we will send you a full report on that bird's history.

To find out more about joining our network of ring readers, please contact:

If you do spot a Bewick's send the details of their ring number and colour, along with the date and location seen, the observer name and contact details to:

Images used copyright Andrey Glotov and Yulia Leonova