A beginners guide to the common waterfowl of the UK including information on populations, descriptions and other useful tips on how to identify them.
The mute swan is one of the most well-known waterbirds in the UK and there are currently 6000 pairs in the country. They grow to more than 11 kilos in weight and have a wingspan of almost 8 foot! Young mute swans are called cygnets and have grey feathers whereas Adults are completely white, have black legs and a bright orange beak.
Greylag are the UK’s largest native goose and 92,000 of them breed here. These numbers are bolstered in the winter when are further 90,000 migrate south from Iceland. They have a wingspan of between 5 and 6 feet and can grow to a weight of more than 3 and a half kilos. Truly wild greylags have slate grey backs and wings, a white rump and a lighter grey neck and head. Their legs are a washed out pink and their beaks an orange pink colour.
Canada geese were introduced to England around 300 years ago. There are currently thought to be more than 60,000 pairs breeding here. They have a wingspan of between 4 and 5 feet and can weigh as much as 4 and a half kilos. Their bodies are similarly coloured to greylag geese except they have a black neck with white facial markings and their legs are dark grey.
You wont be surprised to hear that the Egyptian goose is not native to the UK. There are currently thought to be more than 1000 pairs of these birds living in the wild here. Egyptian geese have a wingspan of 3 to 4 feet and can weigh from 1 and a half to 2 and a quarter kilos. They have bright pink legs, and lots of different marking over their bodies. The most notable of these are their dark brown eye patches and the bright white and brown patches on their wings.
Barnacle geese are the rarest uk breeding bird on this. Only around 900 pairs breed here but this number increases in the winter when more than 90,000 birds migrate here from Russia and Greenland. Barnacle geese have visible barring on their wings, the white on their faces is larger and they have black breast feathers. They have a wingspan of between 4 and 5 feet and get to a weight of around 2 kilos.
There are more than 250,000 pairs of mallards in the UK. Wild mallard males have vibrant green heads, brown breast a white collar and a blue green patch on their wings that is known as a speculum. Truly wild mallards have wingspans of just less than 3 feet and weigh between 750 grams and one and a half kilos.
Teal are the UKs smallest breeding native duck. Around 4000 of them breed here, mostly around the north of England and southern Scotland. In the winter there is an influx of more than 200,000 birds. Teal get their name from the colour of the speculum on their wings and aside from this the female is relatively drab. The males however have chestnut brown heads with green facial markings, a white bar down each of their sides and a finely striped grep pattern over the rest of their bodies. Teal have a wingspan of around 2 feet and weigh from 240 to 360 grams.
Around 9000 great crested grebes breed in the UK, usually on large lakes and rivers. They are well known for their mating dance where they propel their bodies out of the water with their legs and then turn their heads from side to side rapidly. Great crested grebes are excellent swimmers and have legs at the backs of their bodies to help propel them beneath the waters surface. They have a wingspan of just under 3 foot and can weigh from 600 grams to one and a half kilos.
The little grebe is a bird that most people just catch a glimpse of before it disappears beneath the surface. 5300 pairs breed in the UK and they are mostly found in lowland areas. Little grebes are smaller than their great crested relatives, they have a wingspan of one and a half foot and weigh around 120 grams.
There are 31000 pairs of coot in the UK and they are usually found in lowland lakes and rivers. They are covered in black feathers and have a large white shield on the front of their heads. This shield is thought to help them to recognise and to chose their mates. Unlike all of the other birds already mentioned on this list, coots do not have webbed feet. Instead they have feather shaped flaps of skin that protrude from the sides of their toes and helps them to propel themselves through the water. Coots have a wingspan of around 2 and a half foot and can weigh from 600 to 900 grams.
Moorhens are a common site in urban ponds and riverbanks and can be found all across lowland UK. Like coots they have a face shield but theirs is bright red and runs down to the yellow tip of their beak. They have brown wings and yellow legs that lead to feet that look proportionate to their bodies. These feet are not webbed and unlike coots they do not have feathering. The UK breeding population of moorhens is around 1 million. They have a wingspan of 1 and a half feet and can weigh from 250 to 400 grams.
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