Swans are famed for their elegance and graciousness, but they’re also highly intelligent and have tremendous flying stamina. There are only six species of swan in the Cygnus genus of the Anatidae family, and they live in North America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and South America. Here, we’re going to answer the question: how long do swans live?
Swans in the wild tend to live for around 9 to 12 years on average, but there are many examples of them living into their late 20s and early 30s. Swans face many risks during their first few months alive, and as many as 50% of all cygnets die within three months of hatching. This is partly why the average lifespan of swans is relatively low for a large bird.
Numerous swans have lived well until their late-30s, though, which shows that these birds are capable of living exceptionally long lives if conditions suit. The oldest swan known was a Mute swan ringed on the 21st February 1970 at Heikendorf near Kiel in northern Germany and was found dead in Denmark in 2009, making it slightly older than 40.
Unfortunately, like with many other birds, the reality is that most swans perish before they reach adulthood.
Read on to learn more about the lifespan of these elegant birds!
A mute swan in Germany, lived until over the age of 40!
Swans live for around 9 to 12 years or so in the wild and probably have shorter lifespans than many expect. However, swan lifespans probably appear lower due to high 1-year mortality rates - sexually mature adult birds have an excellent chance of living for longer than average.
Swans suffer from high nestling and first-year mortality rates, meaning many do not live to see their first birthday. However, when conditions are right or when swans are kept in captivity, they can live very long lives of more than 30 years.
Lifespans typically live for around 9 to 12 years, though there are many examples of them living much longer, both in the wild and in captivity. Swans are hardy birds, but their average lifespan is blighted by nest failure and high nestling and first-year mortality.
The average lifespans of the six species of swan are as follows:
Bewick's swans usually live for between 9 and 11 years in the wild
There are many cases of captive swans living until their late 20s. For example, pickles, a Whooper swan bred at Leeds Castle in the UK, died at the ripe old age of 30.
Pickles celebrated his 30th birthday that year, complete with cake, and was apparently the castle’s noisiest member resident!
There are three species of swans in the UK; the Mute, Whooper, and Bewick’s. All three live for an average of around 9 to 12 years in the wild, but some wild Mutes and Whoopers have been recorded living for much longer.
It’s not uncommon for swans to reach the age of 20 or so in the UK, as they’re a protected species and have few natural predators, especially once they reach adulthood. Nevertheless, nestling and first-year mortality rates are high and cygnet survival rates are quite low.
It's not uncommon for Whooper Swans in the UK to reach 20 years old
Swans usually die from predation, disease, and starvation. While swans are large, their nests and young are predated by wolves, cats, mink, foxes, raccoons, and raptors such as eagles, hawks, and owls.
Many swans die as cygnets before they reach the fledgling stage. It’s uncommon for all cygnets from a brood to be lost to predators. Other young swans die from starvation and disease - the risk is particularly high during cold, early winters.
Once they reach adulthood, swans are often killed by flying accidents and trauma, lead poisoning, and diseases such as avian tuberculosis and aspergillosis.
Swans have relatively slow lifecycles and often don’t breed until they’re 2 to 4 years old. Incubation duration is also long, and baby swans can stay close to their parents for as long as 6 to 12 months before they leave to join a flock of their own.
Black Swan, swimming on a lake in New Zealand
Swans are large birds, but they still face many threats on land, sea, and air. Some of their main predators on land include cats, foxes, raccoons, wolves, and polecats.
Hawks, eagles, and owls may also target cygnets and young swans. Even large fish and amphibians such as snapping turtles, pike, and large perch are capable of eating cygnets.
The oldest swan is likely a Mute swan, ringed on the 21st February 1970 at Heikendorf near Kiel in northern Germany. It was found dead in Denmark in 2009, making it slightly older than 40.
An old Trumpeter swan called Solo in Washington, USA, is potentially older if it’s still alive today. Additionally, there are also numerous cases of swans living until they’re around 30, such as Pickles, who died aged 30 at Leeds Castle in Kent, UK.
Trumpeter Swans usually live between 12 and 16 years in the wild
Swans likely need food every day. In the wild, they can eat as much as 25% of their own body weight in one day.
If a swan doesn't eat for 24 hours or so, it’ll probably become tired and lethargic. Unfortunately, many cygnets die from starvation - they need to be fed multiple times a day.
Swans are tough, hardy birds that breed in the far north. Many do migrate in winter, but some species breed in the tundra of the Arctic and subarctic.
Swans have exceptionally thick, dense feathers and thick layers of fat to shield them from the cold. Their broad, webbed feet also help minimize heat loss.
A mute swan swimming on a lake during the winter
Swans don’t live for 100 years, or anywhere near it. The oldest swans are thought to be around 40, though many have lived until their late 30s. This is exceptionally old amongst most birds.
Trumpeter swans have an average lifespan of 12 to 16 years. The oldest recorded but a Trumpeter swan in Washington might have far exceeded that, especially if it’s still alive today.
Mute swans live for around 10 years on average, but the oldest individual (also the oldest swan in the world) was at least 40 when it died in 2009. The swan was ringed in Germany in 1970.
Black swans live for around 12 to 15 years on average, but some can live until they’re 25 or so.
Actually, all six species of swans have quite similar life expectancies. While the oldest swan is probably a Mute swan, there aren’t significant differences between the average and maximum lifespans of various swans.
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