Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Key facts

Scientific name: Cygnus olor
Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding birds: 5,800-7,000 pairs

Wintering birds: 79,000

Conservation status: Green
Length: 125 – 170 cm
Wingspan: 200 – 240 cm
Weight: 10 – 12 kg

Description

Adult, male, mute swans have white plumage overall. They sometimes have a orange-brown wash on their crown, cheeks, and neck from iron and tannins in water.

On the head, the bill is orange with a black nail, and a prominent black knob on the upper base. The eyes are dark brown with black lores, and the short legs and webbed feet are black.

Female mute swans are similar but is slightly smaller and has a smaller knob on the bill.

Juveniles, or cygnets, have grey-brown plumage that turns white in the first winter, although some grey feathers may remain until the second winter. The eyes are brown, the bill is grey, and the legs and feet are black.

Breeding

Mute swans breed between late April and early May. They form pair-bonds for at least one season but not always for life. The nest is built by both adults with the male bringing the material to the female. It is a large mound made of reeds, grasses, and other vegetation, lined with down and softer plant material, and usually placed near water.

Mute swans lay 4-12 pale grey, green, or blue-green eggs which are incubated by both sexes for 36-38 days. The female does most of the incubation, while the male defends the territory. Chicks are precocial and covered in pale grey down with white underneath. Both parents feed and care for them and they will often ride on the female’s back at 10 years old. They are fully feathered at two months and can fly at about 120 days. They remain with their parents until the following spring and reach sexual maturity at 3 years.

Feeding

Mute swans feed on a wide range of vegetation, both submerged aquatic plants and seeds and grain they may find on land.

They will occasionally eat small animals such as fish, frogs, molluscs and worms. They catch them with their bill, and filter out the mud and water through lamellae on the sides of the mandibles.

Mute Swan

Where to see them

Mute swans breed across most of the UK except for Northern Scotland, mid-Wales and the moors of south-west England. You will find them anywhere there is a shallow lake or slow-flowing rivers including in urban areas.

Listen

Jerome Fischer/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Despite their name, mute swans will make a hissing noise when threatened, and when they fly their wings produce a whistling sound which can be heard up to a mile away.

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