The Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is a common Eurasian member of the duck, goose and swan family Anatidae.
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This bird is found naturally mainly in temperate areas of Europe and western Asia. It is not migratory, although some populations must move in winter when waterways and lakes freeze. They are sometimes found at the coast, particularly in winter, rather than solely being birds of inland waters.
The Mute Swan is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. However, in places their numbers are increasing and can be troublesome. In the United Kingdom, following a ban on the use of lead weights by anglers in the 1980s, numbers have increased radically and both farmers and river managers express concern about their impact; an adult swan can eat 4Kg of vegetation a day, and a flock of them can strip a field of young oilseed rape, for example. For aesthetic reasons, this species is often kept in captivity, in areas where it is not native, in order to decorate parks and ponds, and escapes inevitably follow. The descendants of such birds have become naturalised in the eastern United States and Great Lakes, much as the Canada Goose has done in Europe. In some locations, such as Chesapeake Bay, the numbers of these feral birds have increased to the point where they are considered pests because they compete with native birds for habitat and food.
Adults of this large swan range from 125-155 cm long with a 200-240 cm wingspan. They may stand over 1.2 m (four feet) tall. Males are larger than females and have a larger knob on their bill. The Mute Swan is one of the heaviest flying birds, with males (known as "cobs") averaging at about 12kg (27 lbs.), and females (known as "pens") more than 9 kg (20 lbs.). An exceptional Poland cob weighed almost 23 kg (50 lbs.), surpassing the longer-bodied Trumpeter Swan to make it the heaviest waterfowl ever recorded. Its size, orange-reddish bill and white plumage make this swan almost unmistakable. The most similar species is Whooper Swan, but that has a yellow and black bill, and lacks the curved "swan" neck, is longer and heavier and lacks the characteristic projection above the bill.
A Mute swan at the moment of landing
A Mute swan spreads its wings
Two resident swans of Iowa State University
A pair of swans creating a "lovers' heart"
Young birds, called "cygnets", are not the bright white of mature adults, and lack the bright orange bill. The color of the down may be a dull white or gray, and controversy exists over whether the color is related to their gender.
There are no recognized living subspecies of the Mute Swan. The morph immutabilis ("Poland Swan") in which the cygnets are dull white is not a subspecies as it occurs in all populations. However, during the Pleistocene, a paleosubspecies (Cygnus olor bergmanni) existed; it differed only in size and is known from fossils found in Azerbaijan.
Mute Swans nest on large mounds that they build in shallow water in the middle or at the edge of a lake. These monogamous birds reuse the same nest each year, restoring or rebuilding it as needed. Male and female swans share the care of the nest, and once the cygnets are fledged it is not uncommon to see whole families looking for food. They feed on submerged aquatic vegetation, reached with their long bills. This bird can often be found in colonies of over 100 individuals such as at the southern tip of Öland Island, Ottenby Preserve, in the coastal waters of the Baltic Sea (Hogan, 2006).
Although this bird can be tame, especially to those who feed it daily, it is aggressive in defence of its nest, and its size and impressive hissing make it a formidable adversary for animals as large as a fox; a grunt, on the other hand, may be a positive signal. There have been many reports of Mute Swans attacking people who enter their territory. Their wings are believed to be so strong that they can break a person's arm with one hit, although the evidence for this is weak.
The Mute Swan is less vocal than the noisy Whooper and Bewick's Swans; the most familiar sound associated with Mute Swan is the whooshing of the wings in flight once this bird has laboriously taken off from the water. The phrase swan song refers to this swan and to the famous ancient legend that it is utterly silent until the last moment of its life, and then sings one achingly beautiful song just before dying; in reality, the Mute Swan is not completely silent.
Unlike Black Swans, Mute Swans are strongly territorial. The familiar pose with neck curved back and wings half raised, known as busking, is a threat display. The Mute Swan is protected in most of its range, but this has not prevented illegal hunting and poaching in some countries.
The Mute Swan is the national bird of the Kingdom of Denmark.
All Mute Swans in the UK (with the possible exception of those in Orkney and Shetland) are considered the property of the British monarch, except for flocks owned by the Vintners' and Dyers' Companies. See Swan Upping.
The Mute Swans in the moat at The Bishops Palace at Wells Cathedral in Wells, England have for centuries been trained to ring bells via strings attached to them to beg for food. Two Swans are still able to ring for lunch. Bell Ringing Swans Of Wells, England Official Website *
There is rich iconographic and literary evidence for Celtic bird-goddesses who took the form of swans. Similarly, swans are highly revered in Hinduism (see the trivia section of swan). The Roman Julius Caesar noted that the British tribes thought wild geese and swans "unlawful" to eat or kill. By medieval times, though, swans were considered an edible form of poultry. Nowadays they are a protected species in many countries.
Both the Ancient Britons and the Anglo-Saxons believed that a swan's wings throbbed and sang with a human voice when they flew.
A Mute Swan was believed to have been the first species of bird to have died from the H5N1 'Avian Flu' virus in the UK, when a swan carcass was found in Cellardyke, Fife in Scotland in March 2006. However it has turned out to have been a Whooper Swan.
Allin, C. C., & Husband, T. P. (2003). Mute swan (Cygnus olor) impact on submerged aquatic vegetation and macroinvertebrates in a Rhode Island coastal pond. Northeastern Naturalist, 10, 305-318.
BirdLife International (2004). Cygnus olor. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 09 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
Hogan, C. M. (2006). Environmental Database for Oland, Sweden. Lumina Press.
Madge, S. and Burn, H. (1987). Wildfowl: An Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese and Swans of the World. A & C Black. ISBN 0-7470-2201-1.
Parrott, D., & McKay, H. V. (2001). Mute swan grazing on winter crops: Estimation of yield loss in oilseed rape and wheat. Crop Protection, 20, 913-919.
Ticehurst, N. E. (1957). The mute swan in England. London: Cleaver-Hume Press.
^ Both Cygnus and Olor mean "swan", in Ancient Greek and Latin, respectively.