Mute Swan

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Common Name: Mute Swan
Scientific Name: Cygnus olor

Size: 49-67 inches (125-170 cm); Wingspan: 79-94 inches (200-240 cm)

Habitat: Eurasia; endemic to much of Europe and Asia, and a rare winter visitor to the far north of Africa. It is also an introduced species in North America, Australasia and southern Africa.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 600,000-610,000 individuals with an increasing population trend.

Diet: A wide range of vegetation, both submerged aquatic plants which they reach with their long necks, and by grazing on land. The food commonly includes agricultural crop plants such as rapeseed and wheat. Flocks in the winter may cause significant crop damage, often as much through trampling with their large webbed feet, as through direct consumption.

Nesting: Sexes are alike in appearance, although males are significantly larger. The Swan has completely white plumage with an orange bill bordered with black. It is recognizable by its pronounced knob atop the bill which expands during breeding season. Young birds are not the bright white of mature adults, and their bill is dull greyish-black, not orange, for the first year. The down may range from pure white to grey to buff, with grey/buff the most common. The white cygnets have a leucistic gene. All Mute Swans are white at maturity, though the feathers (particularly on the head and neck) are often stained orange-brown by iron and tannins in the water

Swans are monogamous. Once the adults are mated, they seek out their own territories. Ducks and gulls often live close to swan nests so they may take advantage of the swan's ability to reach deep water weeds, which are pulled to the surface when swans feed.

Mute Swans build nests of large mounds of waterside vegetation that is located in shallow water on islands either in the middle or at the very edge of lakes. They often reuse the same nest each year, restoring or rebuilding it as needed. Male and female swans share the care of the nest, and once the cygnets are fledged it is not uncommon to see whole families looking for food together. Mute Swans are usually strongly territorial with just a single pair on smaller lakes, though in a few locations where a large area of suitable feeding habitat is found they can be colonial with the largest colonies having over 100 pairs.

Mute Swans can be very aggressive in defense of their nests. Most defensive attacks from a Mute Swan begin with a loud hiss, if this is not sufficient to drive off the predator, it is followed by a physical attack. Swans attack by smashing at their enemy with bony spurs in their wings, accompanied by biting with their large bill. The wings of the swan are also very powerful and exert enough force to break an adult man's leg.

Cool Facts: Mute Swans get their name from being the least vocal of the swan family. Mute Swans are one of the heaviest flying birds, with males averaging about 11–12 kg (24–26 lb) and the slightly smaller females weighing about 8.5–9 kg (19–20 lb).

The familiar pose with neck curved back and wings half raised, is known as “busking” and is a threat display. Both feet are paddled in unison during this display, resulting in more jerky movement.

In the “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen, the “Duckling” is actually a mute swan cygnet is ostracized by his fellow barnyard fowl because of his homely looks. To his delight and to the surprise of others, he matures into a graceful swan, the most beautiful bird of all.

In the story of Lohengrin, the earliest written version of the legend by the German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach.(1210), Lohengrin was the son of Parsifal (the knight of the Holy Grail). At King Arthur's command, Lohengrin was taken by a swan-drawn boat to Antwerp, where he fought for a noble lady, Elsa of Brabant. Richard Wagner turned this poem into the opera, “Lohengrin”, which in turn inspired Ludwig, the king of Bavaria, who built the swan castle, Neuschwanstein. Neuschwanstein later became the inspiration for the Disneyland theme park castle.


Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume 3: Swans of the World

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