Veronica Knapp/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Mute Swan

Cygnus olor

Conservation status North American populations are still increasing. These huge birds can pose a nuisance, consuming great amounts of aquatic vegetation and competing with native waterfowl. By the early 1990s some biologists suggested control of the population in some areas, especially Chesapeake Bay region and southern New England, but general public opinion was still on the side of the swans.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Ponds, both fresh and salt; coastal lagoons, salt bays. In North America found in wide variety of wetland areas including all types of marshes, lakes, park ponds; often in close association with humans, but also in some remote wild areas.
Brought in from Europe as an ornamental addition to parks and estates, the Mute Swan has established itself in a feral state in some parts of North America, mainly in the northeast. In some places, it has become common enough to be unpopular, and it is considered a pest in a few areas. Not really "mute"; its voice is hoarse and much quieter than those of our native swans, but its wingbeats may be heard as much as a mile away.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Feeds by dabbling at water's surface, dipping head and neck below surface, and upending with tail up and head extending straight down; also grazes on land. Readily adapts to artificial feeding by humans.


Eggs

5-7, up to 10, rarely 11. Very pale green, becoming nest-stained. Incubation period about 36 days. Female does almost all incubating; male will sit on nest while female is off foraging. Young: both adults tend young; small young often carried on parents' backs. Young fledge in 4-5 months, usually remain with parents through first winter.


Young

both adults tend young; small young often carried on parents' backs. Young fledge in 4-5 months, usually remain with parents through first winter.

Diet

Mostly plant material. Feeds on seeds, stems, leaves, and roots of aquatic plants, including pondweeds, eelgrass, algae. Also grazes on grasses, feeds on waste grain. Sometimes eats insects, snails, worms, tadpoles, small fish.


Nesting

Pairs usually form at age of 2 years, first nesting usually at 3-4 years. Pairs in courtship face each other and turn heads from side to side in unison. In threat display to protect nesting area, wings arched over back, head laid far back with neck feathers fluffed out, while swan swims forward jerkily. Nest site on shoreline, small island, or mound built up in shallows. Nest (built by female, although male helps gather material) is mound of plant material, usually 5-6' in diameter, with shallow depression on top.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

North American birds seem not to migrate farther than necessary. Those in northeast move southward or to coastal waters when breeding lakes freeze; more southerly birds may be sedentary. On native range in Eurasia, may migrate long distances.

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Migration

North American birds seem not to migrate farther than necessary. Those in northeast move southward or to coastal waters when breeding lakes freeze; more southerly birds may be sedentary. On native range in Eurasia, may migrate long distances.

Songs and Calls
Usually silent, but utters hissing and barking notes. A loud trumpeting call is rarely heard; wings make loud whirring sound in flight.