Animal of the Month
Species: C. olor
Size: 55-63 inches,
67 inches max; 79-94 inch wingspan.
Body covered in feathers; long neck with small head and medium-sized beak; rounded body, against which folds long wings that contain bony spurs; two legs with webbed feet.
Color(s): White neck and body; head white and black; beak orange.
Behavior: Territorial, aggressive, mostly monogamous.
Preferred Habitat: Lakes and ponds.
Range: Found across Europe, North America, and parts of Asia and New Zealand.
Diet: Plants, including aquatic, terrestrial and domesticated crops.
Lifespan: About 19 years in the wild, 30-40 years in captivity.
Status: Least Concernedt Concern
Sometimes the animals you'd least expect turn out to be the grumpiest. Take the mute swan for example; they may look elegant and delicate, and they may make softer sounds than other swan species, but they're incredibly fierce birds! Famous for their beautiful white plumage, mute swans are found across Europe and parts of Asia. They also have introduced populations in New Zealand, Japan and especially the United States.
Despite their name, mute swans are not actually mute. They make whistling, hissing, grunting, and snorting sounds depending on the situation. Mute swans spend much of their time on lakes and ponds. When swimming, they hold their necks in their trademark s-shape. On land they waddle with a side-to-side gait. On water or on land, mute swans are voracious herbivores, grazing on a variety of aquatic and terrestrial plants. They also, if the opportunity presents itself, will go after farm-grown plants like wheat!
Mute swans usually mate for life, though sometimes they will switch mates. The populations in Europe migrate every winter, however the North American populations generally do not. Wherever they are, mute swans are zealous in defending their territory. They use their size, beaks, and bone spurs concealed in their wings to attack intruders. They are known for chasing off other swans, ducks, geese, and even dogs and humans. In fact, they are so aggressive that they make it difficult for wildlife managers to do their jobs!
A mother mute swan will lay between 4-10 eggs, often in April or June. After brooding for around 36 days, in May or July, the baby swans, called cygnets, will hatch. Cygnets are born gray and fluffy. After about 120-150 days they will be old enough to fly.
Mute swans are currently classed as Least Concern. In the past they were decimated by hunting and lead poisoning, but legal protections and environmental cleanups have helped them to rebound. While their numbers are strong, certain populations are threatened by poaching, climate change, litter, and pollution.
In the United States, mute swans often pose a problem for local eco-systems. Originally, they were imported to the US in the 1800's for parks, zoos and private estates. A small number of them escaped captivity and went on to upset the balance of freshwater ecosystems. Between their appetites for vegetation and their aggressive natures, they easily outcompete native bird species for food and space. This is an example of how introducing foreign species can have unintended consequences.
Despite their destructive behavior, they are protected in many US locals. To this day, the subject of mute swans in the US is controversial. Some feel they are invasive and should be eliminated, while others feel that they have the right to live. Hopefully a compromise can be reached so that freshwater habitats can be safeguarded while also preserving the beautiful (if moody) mute swans.
To learn more about these birds, look here:
All About Birds, Mute
Swan Page-More detailed information on mute swans, including recordings
of their sounds!
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