The Whooper Swan, faithful to its mate, is the Finnish national bird and a northern cousin of the southern Mute Swan (Cygnus olor). The population of the species declined sharply in the early decades of the 20th century due to vigorous hunting and egg collecting. In the 1940s the occurrence of the Whooper Swan was restricted mainly to the northernmost parts of Lapland, and the population was only about 15 pairs. Attitudes towards the Whooper Swan changed, and the species began to recover after it was declared protected (1934) and, in part, also with the Whooper Swan – Bird of Ultima Thule, a popular book published by Yrjö Kokko (1950).
Today, about 10,000 breeding pairs nest all over Finland, but the breeding population is still the highest in northern Finland. The most popular breeding areas for the Whooper Swan are the bog ponds on string bogs and bird lakes. Finnish Whooper Swans overwinter mainly in southern Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany. In recent years, some individuals have begun to spend the winter in Lapland, for example round Kutuniva in Jerisjärvi, Muonio. The Whooper Swan is a bird species well hardened against cold, as it arrives to the north among the first migratory birds and leaves only when the water bodies freeze. Although about 40 percent of swans die in their first year of life, according to bird ringing data, the Whooper Swans are a long-lived bird species. The development of chicks from egg to young birds able to migrate takes a long time, and if winter arrives early, this increases chick mortality. The most common cause of death in adult Whooper Swans is collision with power lines. The oldest Finnish swan has lived to be 24 years old.
Text: Jukka Jokimäki & Marja-Liisa Kaisanlahti-Jokimäki
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