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15 Whooper Swans electrocuted by power lines in Co. Donegal

10th November 2017

BirdWatch Ireland is extremely concerned about the deaths of at least 15 migratory Whooper Swans in Co. Donegal.  Their carcasses have been discovered lying under electricity lines close to the village of Carrigans in the north-east of the county, close to the border with Northern Ireland.

Adult Whooper Swan that collided with power lines near Carrigans and was electrocuted (Photo: Daniel Moloney - BirdWatch Ireland)

Adult Whooper Swan that collided with power lines near Carrigans and was electrocuted
(Photo: Daniel Moloney - BirdWatch Ireland)

Upon being informed earlier today of the discovery by a member of the public, BirdWatch Ireland staff member Daniel Moloney travelled to the scene, in the company of local National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Lee McDaid.  They confirmed that the swans had collided with the wires in flight and that the cause of the birds’ deaths was electrocution.  A high proportion of the swans that were killed were juvenile birds, just a few months old.

One of the juvenile Whooper Swans that was killed at the site (Photo: Daniel Moloney - BirdWatch Ireland)

One of the juvenile Whooper Swans that was killed at the site
(Photo: Daniel Moloney - BirdWatch Ireland)

It appears that the deaths were the result of multiple separate collisions with the electricity wires over a period of several weeks.  Some of the birds were freshly dead, while others showed varying levels of decomposition, indicating that they had died on various different occasions.

A dead Whooper Swan at the site that has partially decomposed and has been eaten by a scavenger (Photo: Daniel Moloney - BirdWatch Ireland)

A dead Whooper Swan at the site that has partially decomposed
and has been eaten by a scavenger
(Photo: Daniel Moloney - BirdWatch Ireland)

BirdWatch Ireland is very worried that Whooper Swans will continue to be electrocuted at this site in the days and weeks to come unless urgent action is taken.  It has contacted the ESB to inform it of the problem and to recommend that immediate measures be put in place to prevent further collisions.  Approximately 700 Whooper Swans were today noted feeding in a field immediately adjacent to that in which the dead birds were discovered, with additional new birds arriving in groups thoughout the day, and BirdWatch Ireland fears that further collisions and swan deaths are likely.

Very large numbers of Whooper Swans are still present at the site and are at severe risk of electrocution (Photo: Daniel Moloney - BirdWatch Ireland)

Very large numbers of Whooper Swans are still present at the site
and are at severe risk of electrocution
(Photo: Daniel Moloney - BirdWatch Ireland)

The wires in question are fitted with “deflectors” which are supposed to make them more visible to flying birds, but evidently these do not appear to be working satisfactorily in this case.  Indeed, several of these deflector devices have been knocked off the wires due to the swan collisions, further reducing the visibility of the wires.

One of the "deflectors" that were fitted to the power lines in order to prevent collisions by swans and other large birds, without success in this case (Photo: Daniel Moroney - BirdWatch Ireland)

One of the "deflectors" that were fitted to the power lines in order to prevent collisions
by swans and other large birds, without success in this case
(Photo: Daniel Moloney - BirdWatch Ireland)

Niall Hatch of BirdWatch Ireland said: “It is very concerning that these migratory Whooper Swans have been electrocuted in Carrigans, especially in such large numbers.  Ireland hosts internationally important numbers of Whooper Swans each autumn and winter, and it has a special responsibility to conserve and protect them.  We sincerely hope that measures can be put in place to prevent further swan deaths as soon as possible.

Whooper Swans are winter visitors to Ireland, migrating here each autumn in family groups from their nesting grounds in Iceland.  The species is listed in Annex 1 of the EU Birds Directive and consequently is afforded special protection under Irish law and is subject to special conservation measures.

The Whooper Swan should not be confused with the more familiar Mute Swan, which is a different species.  Mute Swans are present in Ireland year-round and do not migrate, and it is the type of swan that is often found in parks and along canals in urban and suburban areas and which can be very tame around humans; Whooper Swans are much shier and tend to avoid people.  Both species are very large birds with pure white plumage and very long necks.   Whooper Swans can be distinguished, however, by their smooth, sloping beaks, which are yellow and black in colour, whereas Mute Swans have orange and black beaks with a very prominent black “knob” or bump at the base.

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