Living Bird Magazine
Mute SwanCygnus olor
- ORDER: Anseriformes
- FAMILY: Anatidae
The exotic Mute Swan is the elegant bird of Russian ballets and European fairy tales. This swan swims with its long neck curved into an S and often holds its wings raised slightly above its back. Although they’re numerous and familiar in city parks and in bays and lakes in the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes, Northeast, and Midatlantic, Mute Swans are not native to North America. Their aggressive behavior and voracious appetites often disturb local ecosystems, displace native species, and even pose a hazard to humans.More ID Info
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Mute Swans were first brought to North America to decorate ponds and lakes in towns and cities, and that’s still the best place to find these familiar waterfowl. You may also find them on shallow wetlands, lakes, rivers, and estuaries within the scattered range where they’ve become established in the wild.
- Cisne Vulgar (Spanish)
- Cygne tuberculé (French)
- Cool Facts
- All of the Mute Swans in North America descended from swans imported from Europe from the mid 1800s through early 1900s to adorn large estates, city parks, and zoos. Escapees established breeding populations and are now established in the Northeast, Midatlantic, Great Lakes, and Pacific Northwest of the U.S.
- Mute Swans form long-lasting pair bonds. Their reputation for monogamy along with their elegant white plumage has helped establish them as a symbol of love in many cultures.
- The Mute Swan is reported to mate for life. However, changing of mates does occur infrequently, and swans will remate if their partner dies. If a male loses his mate and pairs with a young female, she joins him on his territory. If he mates with an older female, they go to hers. If a female loses her mate, she remates quickly and usually chooses a younger male.
- The black knob at the base of the male Mute Swan's bill swells during the breeding season and becomes noticeably larger than the female's. The rest of the year the difference between the sexes is not obvious.
- Downy young Mute Swans (called cygnets) come in two color morphs: a gray form and a white form. The gray (or "Royal") chicks start off with gray down and grow in gray-brown and white feathers, giving them a mottled look. White (or "Polish") chicks have all white down and juvenal feathers. Adults of the white morph may have pink or gray legs and feet instead of black, but otherwise the adults look alike.
- Mute Swans have enormous appetites. A Maryland study found they ate up to 8 pounds a day of submerged aquatic vegetation, removing food and habitat for other species faster than the grasses could recover.
- Give plenty of space to nesting Mute Swans. They can be extremely aggressive and frequently attack canoeists, kayakers, and pedestrians who wander too close to a nest or chicks.
- Hans Christian Andersen’s fairly tale The Ugly Duckling chronicles the woes and triumphs of a young, Mute Swan that hatches in a clutch of duck eggs but goes on to become a beautiful swan. Some speculate that the book was based on Andersen’s own less-than-handsome looks as a youngster.
- Mute Swans can adapt to degraded habitat and actually benefit from the spread of the invasive common reed Phragmites australis, which flourishes in disturbed sites. As the reeds spread into lakes and ponds, the swans can build nests farther offshore in the reed beds, where they’re safer from egg predators.
- Based on banding records, the oldest known Mute Swan in North America was a male and at least 26 years, 9 months old when he was found in Rhode Island, the same state where he had been banded.