Regular visitors to Leeds Castle will be familiar with the varied wildlife that lives on the estate and one of the residents is celebrating their 30th birthday today! The grounds are home to ‘Pickles’, believed to be the oldest swan in the UK.
Pickles is a Whooper Swan, a large white swan with a long thin neck and black legs. He is easily recognisable by his large vibrant yellow bill. He is also the noisiest resident on the Castle’s moat! Whooper swans can grow up to 160cm in length from bill to tail and weigh up to 11kg. They undertake one of the longest sea crossings of any swan species, migrating around 1400km to Britain from Iceland.
Pickles can often be seen swimming gracefully across the Castle’s ancient moat or on the vast Great Water, surrounded by a variety of other wildlife including Mute Swans, Trumpeter Swans and the famous Leeds Castle Black Swans. There are 19 captive bred swans that call the grounds of Leeds Castle home, but none more famous than Pickles, who at the grand age of 30, is the Castle’s oldest resident and possibly the oldest swan in the country.
A typical lifespan for Whooper Swans is around 10 years in the wild, but they can live into their late 20s in captivity. Pickles came to Leeds Castle back in 2013 at the ripe age of 22. When he arrived there was little known about him other than he had hatched sometime in early June 1991, no exact date had been given which meant Pickles didn’t have a birthday. The Castle’s Falconry & Wildlife Team decided to assign him a day and 3rd June became known at the Castle as ‘Pickles Day’.
Being an older swan, he is treated slightly differently, he’s not a big fan of eating with all the other swans, and he much prefers his own bucket of food on the bank, next to a bucket of water to wash it down with. Perhaps he’s a little spoilt, but being the oldest swan, he certainly needs a bit more care and attention.
When you’re next visiting Leeds Castle look out for Pickles, he’s easily spotted by his loud honking call and his comical run towards his favourite member of staff, Hannah, who he seems to have taken a special liking to from the first day he arrived. He can often be seen having cuddles with her throughout the day.
Pickles has enjoyed his very own birthday swan food cake with his feathered friends, however due to the ongoing Avian Influenza (bird flu) regulations all of Leeds Castle’s captive Swans, including Pickles, are being kept in a secure pen away from our visitors. We hope to have them back out on the waterways soon and plan to celebrate Pickles’ 30th Birthday in style with a big celebration later this year.