For the birds

Thanks to the lakes and extensive grounds at York, water birds are an inevitable part of the student experience. But how much do you know about our feathered friends on campus? Alumna Jane Paffey (Alcuin, Sociology and Education) takes you through some of the species at York.

Famous birds on campus include a ruddy shelduck named Trevor LeDuck who entertained students with his antics so much he had his own Facebook page! Another well-known character, Malcolm the black swan who ruled the lake at Derwent for 13 years, and yet another, Old One Eye the greylag goose lived for 23 years.

To help you work out your geese from your mallards, we’ve put together a handy guide to the main species of birds on campus.


mallardThe male mallard has a glossy green head, grey and brown body plumage and curled tail feathers. The female is a duller brown, who quacks loudly, with the male producing a much softer sound. Ducklings can be seen on campus from early February until as late as November each year.

Ruddy shelduck

ruddy-shelduckA bright orange duck with a honking call, the male develops a black neck collar during the breeding season, while the female has whiter patches of feathering on her face. The male plays an active part in bringing up the offspring, unlike the drakes of most duck species. In 2009, a pair of ruddy shelducks were bought and released onto the lake by the Students’ Union.

Barnacle goose

barnacle-gooseA small black and white goose. The campus birds are the descendants of a small flock of 16 birds which were originally part of the University bird collection. There is currently a flock of 26 birds, who can often be seen on the lawn outside Heslington Hall. Each year a few pairs produce goslings.

Canada goose

canada-gooseThe canada goose seems to be the least popular goose on campus due to its large size and sometimes aggressive behaviour towards smaller species. Canada geese at York are of feral origin and stay for most of the year. There are usually between ten and 50 birds on campus.

Greylag goose

greylag-gooseThe greylag goose makes the traditional gabbling noise associated with farmyard geese. Greylags are known for loyalty to their mates, they have strong family bonds and this can be observed in the campus flock. The university birds are part of a large feral flock of greylag geese living in the York area and there can be up to 200 on campus at any one time.

Lesser snowgoose

lesser-snowgooseA pair was given to the university in the 1970’s and there is now a small flock of 28 birds. They have two colour phases, blue or white. The blue goose, which is dark grey with white head plumage was originally thought to be a distinct subspecies. The white phase goslings are pale grey and the blue goslings are dark grey, developing their white head colouring as they moult from their juvenile plumage. Every year, the campus snowgeese produce goslings of both the blue and the white phase.

Black swan

black-swanTwo pairs of black swans were donated to the university in 2001 and two years later, one pair produced the university’s first black swan cygnets. The black swan is native to Australia, where they nest twice a year and the campus black swans have hatched cygnets twice during the autumn. One of the black swans now lives at Heslington East, having been chased away from the lake at Derwent by her parents.

Mute swans

mute-swanA large white bird, the mute swan has been a regular visitor to campus for many years. In 2009, a pair of mute swans nested for the first time at the university and a pair currently live at Heslington East.