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What Is a Mute Swan?

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Mute Swan Facts

The Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is a very large, elegant, beautiful white water bird that can be seen in various places around the world. The Mute Swan has a long S-shaped neck and an orange bill with a black base. On the base of the beak is a black lump which is called a basal knob.

The Mute Swan derives its name from the fact it is less vocal than other swans. The name suggests that it is a silent bird, but this is not true as they will make hissing sounds if you get too close to them as I recently discovered. If they feel threatened the swan will display 'busking', which is when they rear up, flap their large wings and make grunting and snorting sounds.

The Mute Swan can grow up to five feet long with a wingspan of seven to eight feet wide. The Mute Swan can weigh up to 15kg and is one of the world's largest and heaviest flying birds, flying with its neck extended and with regular slow wingbeats.

Mute Swans can be seen all over the world and are regarded as a pest in some countries. The terms for a group of swans include a 'ballet of swans' and a 'bevyof swans'.

How long do these swans generally live? In the wild, with all of the hazards they have to deal with (vandals, pollution, dogs, mink, overhead cables, bridges, pylons, lead poisoning, fishing-tackle accidents, etc.), a mean lifespan is about 12 years. In a protective environment, the Mute Swan can live up to 30 years.

Nesting and Breeding Habits of the Mute Swan

A male Mute Swan is called a 'Cob' and the female is a 'Pen'. The Cob and Pen usually attempt to mate for life, and if one dies the remaining bird will search for another mate and not pine away and die from a broken heart as was once believed.

Their nests are made of assorted vegetation such as dried grasses, rushes and sticks that are formed into a huge mound constructed at the water's edge. The male collects and provides the materials for the female to build the nest.

The Pen will lay up to seven eggs between late April and early May in the UK. Both sexes are seen incubating the eggs which hatch after 35-41 days.

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A young swan is called a 'Cygnet' and when it is born it is taupe in colour and has black legs and a black beak. They stay with their parents for 5 to 10 months, after which point they will grow white feathers and an orange beak. At this stage, the Cygnet is known as a 'sub adult' and will look like an adult Swan but will not reach breeding age until age 3-6 years. Sub-adult swans regularly continue to be in the company of other swans till they're mature enough to shape their own pair bonds.

Swans are very protective of their young and they will attack a human who gets too close. I was passing the swans near my home when I spotted a man trying to walk past a Mute Swan and 3 Cygnets and he was attacked by the very protective bird. Swans will not break bones if they attack but can give a sharp peck so it's better to steer clear of parenting swans.

Mute Swan Nest

Mute Swan Nest

What Do Swans Eat?

Swans eat aquatic flora, which their long necks equip them to take from the riverbed. They take the molluscs which dangle to the vegetation and also consume small fish, frogs and worms.

Swans typically discover sufficient food in the wild without supplementary feeding and have been known to graze in large grassy fields and continue to survive. Many humans like feeding bread to swans, but bread can cause dietary problems for the bird and so a diet that is closer to their natural diet is best. The best supplementary foods for the Swan include grains, green vegetables, potatoes, chopped carrots and lettuce.

Supplementary foods for swans need to be thrown into the water to avoid encouraging the birds onto the bank and putting them in danger.

Mute Swan Cygnet

Mute Swan Cygnet

Parenting Swans

I have had the privilege of seeing a pair of mating Mute Swans and their young Cygnets and I am glad to say they are growing quickly. I'm happy about this because Herons and Seagulls are always watching and ready to swoop and snatch a baby swan. The parents have been very protective so now there are three beautiful Cygnets swans on the river near me and they are so beautiful to watch.

The parent swans with their babies

The parent swans with their babies

Swan Upping

Every year in England there is a census of the Mute Swan population on the River Thames and this event is known as Swan Upping. Originally this was a Royal family ceremonial event but now the event is seen as an important part of wildlife conservation in the UK. The Mute Swan is a protected bird in the UK under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act and It is illegal to kill, eat or keep one.

Since the 12th century, the Mute Swan had the protection of the British crown. British Royalty claimed that all Mutes Swans were owned by the British Monarchy. This is because the swan was originally considered a delicacy, but as the years passed and culinary tastes changed the protection for the swan remained. Until 1998, when the law changed, it was seen as an act of treason to harm a Mute Swan. Now, harming a swan in the UK is still regarded as a crime and laws are strenuously enforced, but the crime of harming a swan is no longer seen as an act of treason.

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