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Swans-Anseriformes part three

Updated on August 26, 2015

Black swan and cygnet



In parts one and two, we reviewed the Ducks of this Order Anseriformes. Here in part three we look at the swans.the genus Cygnus to which the swans belong are part of the family Anatidae. They are normally grouped with the closely related Geese in the sub-family Anserinae and the tribe Cygnine within that sub-family.

They are a genus of web footed swimming birds which are found on rivers,lakes,larger ponds,canals and other freshwater bodies,as opposed to the sea. Even on the larger lakes, when they do appear,they tend to keep near to the shores. The chief reason for this is that they are vegetable eaters,and although their long necks enable them to reach the bottom at considerable depths they never dive and they rarely feed upon land, or in any mode other than by floating on the surface of the water.

They are among the most ornamental of all water birds on account of their great size and gracefulness of their turns and motions and their fine plumage the majority of them being snow white.

Sand painting of Swan and Cygnets

Courtesy of Sandpainter.
Courtesy of Sandpainter. | Source

The general characteristics of Swans

In some species the characteristics approach the Geese,while the typical ones differ considerably. The typical ones are in the Anatidae. The bill is wide at the tip as it is at the basal part,and the nostrils are pierced about the middle of the length of the bill. The neck is very long as compared with any other web-footed birds.

They feed upon seeds and roots and various plant parts which are blanched and succulent by being under the water. Thus they have strong and muscular gizzards and the intestines are very long.Although quite sociable at other times ,during the breeding season they are strictly monogamous and the pairs take up their nesting grounds at some distance from each other.

They are very hardy and long-lived birds and their down or under plumage,is so close and fine that they are well adapted for remaining in the water for the greater part of the time.

The Mute swan Cygnus olar


Whooper swans

Taken at Big Waters Northumberland.
Taken at Big Waters Northumberland. | Source

Whooper swan


Eggs of the Whooper swan

Museum Wiesbaden Germany
Museum Wiesbaden Germany | Source

A Look at the species.

The Mute swan ,Pictured above, has been dealt with in great detail in my series 'Birds of Europe' { } as so is omitted here. We commence our review with the Whooper swan Cygnus cygnus, formerly Cygnus ferus. This species is also referred to as the Wild swan,Whistling swan and hooper swan.

The bill of this species is semi-cylindrical and of a black colour,but with the cere of the base of the upper mandible yellow. The yellow edge colouring extends beyond the nostrils. The head has a flat forehead. The body is white,but with a yellowish tinge on the head and upper part of the hind of the neck. The neck is held bolt upright when the bird is alarmed.The iris is brown,and the naked parts of the feet black. The length of these magnificent birds is from four and half to five and a quarter feet. {1.4-1.6 m }and they weigh between 9-11 kg {20-24 pounds.}. They are about the same size as the Mute swan.

It is a bird of the northern hemisphere and considered as the Eurasian counter part of the North American Trumpeter swan { see below}. They are powerful flyers and may migrate hubdreds of miles to their wintering grounds in Europe including the UK, and eastern Asia. They breed in the sub-Arctic Eurasia further south than the similar Bewick's swan {featured below}. They fly in flocks at considerable height.

Because of their large size the legs can not take the weight for any sustained period of time and as a consequence this species spends much of its time in the water.

The female builds a large nest,bulky,very near the margin of the water,but on a place where there is no chance of inundation, and from where she can command a view of any approaching danger. From the water she has nothing to fear,as a consequence if she can locate the nest on a jutting height of the land on an island suitable for her purpose she will choose that,and sit with her head towards the land,unless the state of the weather renders another position more convenient and safe. The male often stands guard over the nest as she lays her eggs,which number from five to eight which are of a rusty brown colour,the shells are thick and strong. They are incubated for a period of about thirty six to forty days.

The cygnets are born with a grey brown plumage. they are capable of flight within about one hundred and thirty days. The Whooper swan is the national bird of Finland.

The head of the Bewick's swan

Note the yellow on the bill  falls short of the nostrils.
Note the yellow on the bill falls short of the nostrils. | Source

Bewick's swan


Bewick's swans and habitat

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley
Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley | Source

Bewick's swan

Bewick's swan, Cygnus bewickii, known more generally now as Cygnus columbianus, is the smallest of the swans. It is typically rather stocky and more goose-like in appearance . It is very similar to the previous species and no doubt been mistaken for it,and visa versa, many times. However,apart from its smaller size there are sufficient differences between them,both externally and internally.

It is a smaller bird than than the former in length of its body and the extent of its wings and especially the weight which is considerably less in proportion to its dimensions. The bill is the same colour,however, the yellow wedge shaped patch falls short of its nostrils {while in the Whooper swan it extends beyond the nostrils.}. The general colour of its plumage is white,instead,however, of the dull yellow on top of the head as in the Whooper swan this species has the front mottled with a rust colour.

In North America it is sometimes referred to as the Tundra swan Cygnus columbianus,and split into two species Cygnus bewickii,but are usually regarded as being conspecific. In the UK where it is also referred to as Cygnus columbianus it is placed on the Amber list of conservation concern because of European concerns. In Europe it is classed as being of 3 concern, {Most not in Europe vulnerable}. In the UK as in North America there are two sub-species recognized,'Bewikii' and 'columbianus'. The wintering population in the UK is estimated at 7,000 birds.

In Ireland the bird is placed on the Red List of conservation concern because of a severe decline in the numbers wintering in Ireland.fewer birds are now migrating as far west as Ireland. Numbers have declined from 1,000 to less than 300 during the last swan census {2005}. They occur at Tacunshin Lake in County Wexford. The majority of the European population winter in Germany,Netherlands, and Britain.

They are very vocal birds making a loud bugling note less trumpeting than the call of the Whooper swan. Flocks are especially vocal often the sound penetrating the winter gloom over a long distance.

The habitat of this species includes Lakes ,rivers,ponds,and estuaries on migration. Their diet consists of tubers,shoots and leaves and other plant material,in water or flooded pastures. They will also eat root crops,and grazes on grasses and cereals. It feeds more on land than the Whooper swan does.

The nest of this species is a pile of grass stems at the edge of a Tundra Pool the female will deposit three to five eggs in May or June. The eggs are incubated for 29-30 days and the cygnets are ready to fledge in a further 40-45 days. They raise one brood per year.

Black Swan Cygnus atratus

Taken at Martin Mere wetland reserve  Lancashire England
Taken at Martin Mere wetland reserve Lancashire England | Source

Black swan swimming


The Black swan

The Black swan, Cygnus atratus, formerly Cygnus nigra, is a species that breeds in the main in the south west and south coasts regions of Australia.In Australia they are nomadic with erratic migration patterns,which are dependent on climatic conditions. They have been introduced to New Zealand after they had previously been hunted to extinction there in former times.

They have also been introduced into other regions of the world and are very popular in Zoo's and bird collections. some of them escape and these may be found out of their natural environment.

The overall plumage of this species is black with the exception of the first six quills which are white. The bill and naked space round the eye is red.The bill has a pale bar at he tip. The legs and feet are greyish black. They measure approximately 43-56 inches in length. They have a long neck held curved in an 'S' shape. The wings are broad and very strong. These are birds of lakes and swamps in their natural range.

The nest of this bird is bulky and similar to that constructed by the Mute swan. The male is particularly watchful of the female while she sits and of both female and brood when they are in the water. he not only drives off other birds,but humans too,must be careful not to approach his family for he will defend them with vigour.

His wings are raised ready for the stroke, his feathers ruffled and he puts on a formidable appearance. They nest from February to September and the nest is a large mound of reeds,grasses and weeds,which may be up to three or four feet in diameter,and up to a metre high.It is located in shallow water or on islands.

The female will deposit four to eight greenish white eggs which are incubated for 35-40 days. Incubation commences when the last egg is laid. The resulting cygnets are of a blackish ashen grey colouring,which continues the whole of the first year.

Although they have been kept in countries including the UK, as ornamentals, they have never been as popular as the Mute swan in any of them.

Trumpeter swan


Trumpeter swan


The Trumpeter swan Cygnus Buccinator

The Trumpeter swan is a North American species and the heaviest living native bird to that continent. Its wing span may exceed ten feet. It is a close relative of the Eurasian Whooper swan Cygnus cygnus {see above},and it is said by some authorities to be a conspecific species.

In 1933,it was estimated that as few as seventy wild Trumpeter swans were know to exist and there were genuine worries that they could be doomed to extinction. However, a Pacific population,consisting of many thousands of this species was discovered around Alaska's Copper River. Thanks to the dedicated work of conservation agencies,the species was reintroduced to various parts and by 2010 the North American population was estimated at 40,000 +.

Adult birds can measure between four foot six inches to five feet five inches. The bill of the trumpeter swan is wedge shaped and black rarely there is a slight colouring around the base of the mouth of salmon pink or pale yellow.The bill can attain the length of four point one to four point seven inches,making it the largest bill of any water fowl.

The legs are greyish pink however,this varies in some individuals when the legs may be a yellowish grey or even black colour. The mute swan which was introduced to the USA is a similar size but can be told immediately by its orange-pink bill.

The trumpeter swan gets its common name from the trumpet-like call. Natural populations migrate to the southern parts of Canada and the eastern parts of north west USA,in particular to the Red Rock Lakes area of Montana and the Puget Sound region of Washington State.However, they have been encountered as far south as Pagosa Springs in Colorado. Since 1992 Trumpeter swans have been encountered in Arkansas between November and February on Magness Lake,

Trumpeters tend to mate for life and both parents attend to their family duties. The female will deposit in general, four to six eggs {although the number varies},on a mound of vegetation. Most eggs are laid between April and May. The female carries out most of the incubation duties which lasts for a period of between 32 -37 days. The resulting cygnets are capable of swimming in a short period of time.They are fully fledged in a period of about three to four months.

Trumpeter swan on nest


Juvenile Trumpeter swan



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deb,

      They certainly are worth observing they are magnificent birds. Thank you for your loyal following. Best wishes to you.

      hello Devika,

      It is always a pleasure to share knowledge with those that appreciate it. Thank you to for your Loyal follow. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Beautiful birds! Swans are one of my favorite. You taught me more and I appreciate you sharing such a lovely hub.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Ah, the wonderful swans! Over the winter, I have been fortunate to have some of these show up on Boomer Lake, which is a real treat. It is hard to photograph them, as they are so far away, but it is worth it to observe these Arctic breeders.


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