The mute swan is commonly associated with romance because of its stark white beauty, graceful swimming and the fact that it mates for life. Yet there are many things most people don’t know about this swan, including that it is not native to North America and it can be one of the most aggressive waterfowl.
Mute Swan, Cygnet (juvenile)
- Bill: Large and straight with knob at base
- Size: 56-60 inches long with 90-inch wingspan, heavy body
- Colors: White, black, orange
- Markings: Genders are identical with all white plumage, though the long neck – often held in an S-curve – may show a buff or brown wash from dirt. The orange bill has a black edge and tip as well as a large black basal knob at the base. The face between the bill and eyes is naked and black, and legs and feet are black.
Habitat and Migration:
Mute swans are native to Europe and Asia, and they have been heavily domesticated in Europe and introduced as domestic waterfowl for estates, parks and gardens in North America. Released birds have formed feral populations around the Great Lakes as well as the North Atlantic coast from Massachusetts south to Virginia. The occasional released bird may be found nearly anywhere, typically near large open areas of water including lakes, large ponds, sheltered bays, bogs and marshes. Mute swans in Europe may migrate east to the Middle East in winter, but North American birds typically do not migrate.
Despite their name, these birds are not really mute. Adult birds are usually silent but will use hisses, barks and rattling snorts when threatened, and juvenile birds have additional whining calls to attract attention.
Mute swans are graceful on the water but can appear awkward and ungainly in flight and on land. These are very aggressive birds when defending their territory and nesting sites, and they will charge and attack large birds and mammals, including humans, that they perceive to be a threat. When swimming, they may hold their wings over their backs in a puffed up position to advertise their strength, and the neck may be held in a strong S-curve as an aggressive posture.
Mute swans are monogamous and believed to mate for life. A pair of birds will incubate 2-10 eggs for 36-38 days, and both parents help feed the precocial young until the birds’ first flight at 100-150 days. Young birds learn to swim and forage within a day of hatching. Mated pairs raise one brood per year.
Attracting Mute Swans:
These are not backyard birds but they can be a common site in parks and gardens that include large water features. Mute swans will approach picnickers and visitors in hopes of handouts, but it is not wise to feed them – bread is not a good food source for swans, ducks or geese. Furthermore, these large birds can become aggressive quickly and are best left alone.
- Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)
- Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)