Mute Swan Fact File
The body of a mute swan is covered with white feathers across the majority of it. The only part which is not white is a black knob on the forehead between the beak and eye. They have a large round body with elongated neck.
Their beak is a bold orange color. Adult males have larger bills than females. The feet are colored black with webbing between each of the toes.
They are one of the heaviest flying birds in the world with adults weighing as much as 12kg (26lbs). Their body measures as much as 1.5m (5ft). They have a wingspan of 2-2.5m (6.6-8.2ft).
The mute swan is considered a herbivore. Most of their diet is made up of aquatic vegetation, algae and grain though this is supplemented with small amounts of insects, frogs and fish.
Food is collected by plunging their head under the water though they will not dive.
Swans help to provide food to other residents in their habitat by pulling it to the surface.
Wild 19 years
Captive 30-40 years
— AD —
Mute swans are native to Europe and Asia though they have been introduced to many parts of the world.
Their native range encompasses the following countries; Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Democratic People’s Republic of, Korea, Republic of, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Province of China, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and Uzbekistan.
Introduced populations exist in Australia, Canda, Faroe Islands, Iceland, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States of America.
They can be found on a range of wetlands, lakes, swamps, marshes, lagoons and rivers. On occasion they are found in brackish and coastal habitats.
With the expansion of human settlements they have begun to inhabit reservoirs, ornamental lakes and canals. They will make use of fields to graze.
Breeding begins in March and April. Typically depicted as monogamous these swans may instead have many partners through their life. During breeding season the knob at the base of the males beak will swell.
Courtship sees the two mute swans face each other and turn their heads from side to side in unison.
The pair will form a nest at the water’s edge or on an island. This nest is formed from vegetation and can be as wide as 1m (3.3ft) across. Pairs are highly defensive of their nest and will attack anything which comes near it.
In to this nest the female will lay up to 12 eggs. The eggs are colored a pale blue-green. She will perform all the incubation though the male will defend the nest for a period of time while she goes off to feed.
Chicks hatch after a 36-38 day incubation. They are known as cygnets. At hatching the chicks are covered with grey-brown down feathers. Their beak is grey and they do not have the knob on the forehead.
They remain in the nest for just 1 day before beginning to move around with the parents. When the chicks are young they may be carried on the back of the mother. Within 60 days they can fly and at the start of the next breeding season their parents will drive them away.
It will take 2-3 years for their adult coloration to grow in completely.
Sexual maturity is reached at 3-4 years old.
In flight they may reach speeds of up to 88.5km/h (55mph).
While they make less noise than other swans they are not entirely mute as their name would suggest. They can hiss, grunt and make a trumpeting noise. These are primarily employed in defense of the nest.
Flocks of up to several thousand mute swans will form at times.
They are migratory in their true range but introduced populations tend to remain in one area year round.
Predators and Threats
Natural predators of the mute swan include raccoons and minks. These typically target eggs and hatchlings with adults only being taken when ill or elderly.
Humans affect their population through hunting both for sport and food along with collection for the pet trade. Even with these effects the International Union for the Conservation of Nature list their populations as increasing in size.
The mute swan is also known as the white swan.
A male swan is called a ‘cob’ while the female is known as a ‘pen.’
Mute swans have long been associated with love as pairs form the shape of a love heart with their beaks and body when they touch.
The ugly duckling fairytale was based on a mute swan.
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BirdLife International. 2016. Cygnus olor. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22679839A85946855. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22679839A85946855.en. Downloaded on 30 July 2020.
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