Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mute Swan


Swans are the epitome of grace, love and romance which is a contradiction of their actual temperament. These birds tend to be aggressive, defensive and often are the bullies of the waterfowl world. Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) as pictured here are common throughout much of Eastern North America. These birds are the descendants of captive populations of swans brought over from Europe and Asia. Mute swans were often used as display birds in city parks, cemeteries, water gardens, botanical gardens and zoos. These birds mated and did well in captivity and as is often the case some birds escaped their captive environs and found the native landscapes to their liking and have created naturalized populations throughout most of the eastern United States and parts of Canada.

These are large birds measuring up to 67 inches in length and have a wingspan up to 94 inches. They may stand nearly 4 feet tall when on land. They are also heavy birds that may weigh up to 26 pounds with females being a little smaller at around 20 pounds. This species is easily differentiated from the similar Trumpeter and Tundra Swans by their curved neck and orange bill with a distinctive black knob.
Mute swans mate for life and both sexes share in the maintenance of the nest and the care of the young cygnets. Juvenile swans are born dark gray or black in color and do not obtain their beautiful white plumage until they are adults. The popular nursery rhyme "The Ugly Duckling" was written about an abandoned swan cygnet that looked far different from the other ducklings it was living with. In the end after all the ducklings made fun of this unfortunate little orphan he had the last laugh when he turned into a magnificent white swan.


These birds feed on a wide range of vegetation including submerged aquatic plants, and field crops like wheat. During the winter months significant damage may be done to crops through trampling and feeding by these swans.


Mute swans get their name from their nearly silent demeanor. The only sound they are reported to make is some grunting, hoarse whistling and snorting. These sounds are generally used to communicate to the cygnets. They also give off a unique vibrant throbbing of the wings when in flight. Other species of swans are much more vocal and even have obnoxiously loud voices.

 These birds can be quite intimidating in their behavior as they are often very aggressive in protecting their nest and young. Male Mute Swans referred to as Cobs are responsible for protecting the young cygnets when on the water. They take this job very seriously and have even attacked canoes, boats, swimmers and anything else they perceive as a threat to their offspring. On land they will stand their ground against Foxes, Canada Geese and a number of other predators including humans which on occasion have been attacked by these birds. I for one would not want to go up against one of these birds when it is protecting its cygnets. I've been chased and pinched by geese and it is an unpleasant experience to say the least, I imagine a swan would be much worse.

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