One of the world’s heaviest flying birds, and one of the most beautiful too, the Mute Swan is a majestic waterfowl with a mean reputation.
The Mute Swan is an unmistakable, massive white bird with an orange bill and a black mask that reaches the eyes and includes a prominent black knob above the bill. They have long, elegant S-shaped necks and black legs with webbed feet.
Females (pens) are significantly smaller than males (cobs) and have shorter bills with smaller knobs. Baby Mute Swans are known as cygnets, and they may be either gray or white. Gray morph cygnets develop brown juvenile plumage before attaining their white adult plumage.
The Mute Swan is one of three UK swan species and can be distinguished from the Bewick’s Swan and Whooper Swan by its black mask and knob above the bill. They can be distinguished from native North American Swans by their orange bill.
Mute Swan walking across a frozen lake
Mute Swans have a total body length of 1.27 to 1.52 meters or about 4 to 5 feet.
Mute Swans are among the world’s heaviest flying birds. They can reach an astonishing 15 kilograms or 33 pounds, although an average adult male weighs around 10kg (22lb) and an average female weighs 8.4kg (18.5lb).
Mute Swans spend little time in flight, although they have a magnificent wingspan of 2 - 2.4 meters or 6ft 7in - 7ft 10in.
Mute Swan preening itself
The Mute Swan may be quieter than other Cygnus species, but it is certainly not silent. These birds trumpet, hiss, grunt, and snore. They are most vocal when threatened and during courtship.
Mute Swan being vocal
Mute Swans are omnivorous, although aquatic plants make up the bulk of their diet. They may also forage for grain in farmland when the water freezes over. Animal prey includes frogs, tadpoles, and insects. They also eat small dead or dying fish, although they struggle to swallow larger meals.
Mute Swan cygnets feed themselves, although they do not have their first meal for a week or so after hatching. The young birds can retrieve food below the surface almost right away, gradually learning to hold their breath for longer periods and even fully submerging themselves.
Mute Swan feeding
Mute Swans inhabit shallow fresh and brackish environments with abundant aquatic plants. They prefer water of 0.2 - 0.45 meters (8 to 18 inches) deep, where they can easily reach the bottom with their bill.
Look out for Mute Swans in the following habitats:
Mute Swans occur naturally from Ireland in the west to China in the East. They are widespread in Central Europe but sparsely distributed through Asia. Today they also occur in parts of the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region, and the Northeast of the United States.
Mute Swans spend most of their time on the water or along the bank. They occasionally move into adjacent fields to feed during harsh winters when the water freezes over.
Mute Swans are the most common Swan species in the United Kingdom, with about 7,000 pairs and over 50,000 individuals present in the winter. The species is localized but increasingly common in the US, with a population of about 15,000 at the turn of the century.
Flock of Mute Swans on the lake
Mute Swans have a patchy distribution in the United States, although feral birds are common in the Northeast from Ontario to North Carolina, in Michigan in the Great Lakes region, and in the Pacific Northwest.
Look out for these birds in the following areas:
Birdwatchers can see Mute Swans on shallow, well-vegetated waterbodies across most of the United Kingdom and Ireland. They are scarce or absent in parts of Southwest England, Wales, and Northern Scotland.
Mute Swan swimming on the lake
Mute Swans can live for at least 29 years in the wild, although their average life expectancy is about ten years.
Mammals like foxes, raccoons, and otters may eat Mute Swan eggs and cygnets. Healthy adults have few predators, although females are vulnerable to larger carnivores like coyotes when incubating their eggs.
Mute Swans in the United Kingdom are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They do not enjoy the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States, although it is illegal to hunt them in Michigan, and they are protected in New Jersey.
Mute Swans are not endangered. They have a green conservation status in the United Kingdom and are ranked ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List.
Mute Swan parent at the nest with its young
Mute Swan pairs work together to build a nest at a site chosen by the male but approved by the female. The nest is a large cup (up to four meters or thirteen feet across) of plant material such as reeds and grasses and built on a small island or along a heavily reeded bank.
Mute Swans build their nests in March and early May. Construction takes ten days or less, and they begin to lay their eggs three days later. The four to seven eggs are laid at two-day intervals and hatch after about 36 days.
Predictably, Mute Swan eggs are massive, ranging from 10 to 12 centimeters (4+ inches) long and 7 to 8 centimeters (3 inches) at their widest. Interestingly, their eggs are blueish-green when fresh but become whitish during incubation.
Mute Swans typically mate for life. These birds form lifelong pair bonds and usually only seek a new mate if their partner should die.
Pair of Mute Swans at their nest site
Nest of a Mute Swan with seven eggs
Mute Swans can be highly aggressive, particularly during the nesting season when established pairs do not tolerate the presence of other Mute Swans in their territory. Males are more aggressive than females, although both sexes are involved in conflicts. Physical fights involve striking with the wrists, biting, and occasionally drowning the opponent.
Mute Swans may attack humans that threaten their eggs or young. However, these birds rarely attack if unprovoked and usually give fair warning by hissing and spreading their wings. Read this article to learn more about swan aggression and how to avoid conflict with these magnificent birds.
Mute Swans sleep on the water or on the bank nearby.
Mute Swan in a pond protecting the family
Mute Swans are migratory in parts of their range and resident in others. The UK population can be seen throughout the year, although they may undertake local movements in harsh winters, and some birds visit from Continental Europe. Across the Atlantic in the United States, they follow a similar pattern, only moving south from frozen waterways or to the coast for the winter.
Mute Swans are not a native species in North America. They were first introduced in the 1800s as ornamental birds and have since become a feral species in several states.
Mute Swans are a wild native species in the United Kingdom, despite their somewhat domesticated status. Remains dating to 6,000 years before the present have been found in East Anglia.
Mute Swan in-flight over a lake
Mute Swans get their name from their quiet nature. They call less than other swans, although they are certainly not silent.
Mute Swans are invasive in the United States, where they are non-native. They are considered harmful to natural environments and a nuisance for people in many areas, and their population continues to grow.
Mute Swans can be kept as pets on private American properties with substantial ponds. However, owning such a large bird is a serious long-term commitment, and all steps should be taken to stay within the lawn and prevent these birds from escaping into wild waterways.
Keeping Mute Swans is illegal in some states, so check in with authorities before purchasing these birds. You may not keep a pet swan in the United Kingdom.
Mute Swans were brought to America from Europe. These undeniably beautiful waterfowl were introduced to ponds in parks and estates as an ornamental attraction, an activity still practiced today on private properties.
Mute Swans are large birds with a serious appetite. They are part of the natural ecosystem in the United Kingdom and Europe, but these newcomers cause damage in the United States. There they outcompete native waterfowl and alter small wetlands by overgrazing the aquatic vegetation and kicking up sediments in the water column.
Family:Ducks, geese and swans
127cm to 152cm
200cm to 240cm
6.6kg to 15kg
The Eurasian wigeon is a medium dabbling duck that commonly breeds across northern Europe, and winters further south, including in the British Isles and occasionally in North America. Rare vagrant breeding pairs can be found in the United States, and small breeding grounds have also been established in northern England and Scotland.
This large bird arrives on our shores from Iceland to overwinter in late September, returning northwards to breed from mid March onwards.
Greater White-Fronted Goose
One of several similar wildfowl species in the Anser genus, Greater White-fronted Geese live up to their name with a distinctive white patch on the front of their face. The species is extremely widespread, although there are several sub-species, each with different breeding and overwintering ranges.
Larger than the Common Scoter this elegant European diving duck spends much of its time at sea and is often seen in company with mixed flocks resting on the water’s surface far out from land.
Tundra Bean Goose
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The Tufted Duck is the UK’s most common diving duck and a familiar sight on lakes and ponds across the country. Known for their long, hair-like tufts, these small waterfowl are fairly easy to identify but may be confused with other ducks from the Aythya genus.
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Taiga Bean Goose
Taiga bean geese are a common sight on northern taiga marshes of Siberia and northern Scandinavia in spring and summer, before heading south into Europe each winter. Several hundred individuals spend winters in the UK, with rare vagrant visitors occasionally reported in North America.
One of seven American goose species, the Snow Goose is a noisy migrant that visits the Lower 48 states each winter. These beautiful birds have increased dramatically since the second half of the 20th century.
Despite being only a rare winter visitor to the British Isles, the Smew is one of the countrys most unmistakable and easily identified duck species. Breeding across Central Asia and returning to Western Europe during winter months, smews begin to turn up on inland lakes as well as in coastal regions from November onwards.
One look at the bill of a northern shoveler should be enough to provide you with an accurate species identification: their flattened shovel-like bills are unique among waterfowl and allow them to feed on tiny plankton by sweeping their heads across the water’s surface.
A large colourful duck, often found in coastal areas, the shelduck, is an established breeding waterbird in the UK. British wetlands are also a major wintering ground for the species, hosting up to 30 percent of Europe’s shelduck population each autumn.
A medium-sized diving duck, the greater scaup is known simply as the scaup in Europe, and locally as the ‘bluebill’ in North America. Only a handful of scaup breed in the UK, making it the rarest breeding duck in the British Isles.
A striking and fascinating little diving duck with an unusual courtship display, the Ruddy Duck is a widespread migrant in North America.
Colourful and instantly recognisable diving ducks, red-crested pochards are present in the UK in small numbers, believed to have initially been introduced into the wild from private wildfowl collections. Some breeding does occur in Britain, although the best chance of a sighting comes with the arrival of several hundred migrants each winter.
A speedy migratory wildfowl with a hardcore hairstyle, the Red-breasted Merganser is widespread in coastal and estuarine habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
During the winter the population of this rare resident breeding duck increases by 55 times to that of the summer, with the influx of many thousands of others overwintering, having arrived from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, Northern Pintails are distinctive migratory waterfowl. Drakes in breeding plumage are particularly attractive, although the drabber females and non-breeding males are still identifiable by their long necks and graceful form.
Although the pink-footed goose does not breed in Britain, it is a common winter visitor, with over half a million migrating individuals arriving each autumn from breeding grounds in Iceland, Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard peninsula.
Sightings of wild Mandarin Ducks in the United States cause quite a stir, and it’s easy to see why. These small but eye-catching waterfowl are, in fact, native to the Far East of Asia, although their popularity as an ornamental species has resulted in their introduction to many parts of the world, including the United Kingdom.
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One of the most distinctive duck breeds, thanks to their extended streaming tail feathers, the long-tailed duck is a coastal waterbird that spends winters at sea, foraging for crustaceans in marine waters, after breeding on Arctic tundra landscapes.
The Greylag goose is the largest grey goose from the Anser genus of the Anatidae family of waterbirds. A stout, robust and heavyweight bird, the Greylag goose is the closest wild relative and ancestor to the domestic goose. Greylag geese are distributed across much of Europe and Asia, extending into eastern Russia and China. Most populations migrate, but some are sedentary, including in much of Northern Europe.
Widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, the common merganser is the largest of the saw billed fish eating ducks. There are three sub-species with the Eurasian variant frequently known as the Goosander.
Goldeneyes are distinctive diving ducks that thrive in cold environments, breeding in boreal forests across Canada, northern Scandinavia and northern Russia. Only when the lakes and coastal areas on their summer territories begin to freeze over as fall approaches do they begin to head south to milder regions where they spend winter months foraging on inland lakes and around sheltered bays.
The Gargeney is a dabbling duck, slightly smaller than a mallard, and considered a rare breeder in the UK, with just over 100 pairs recorded. A fully migratory species, all garganeys spend winters in southern Africa, leaving breeding grounds as early as July, so your window for spotting one on British waters is only a very brief one.
The Gadwall is a widely distributed dabbling duck of the Anatidae family that breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. This hardy duck breeds as far north as Siberia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and coastal Alaska and is found across both the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
The common eider (Somateria mollissima) is a large and widespread sea duck that is perhaps best known for its valuable insulating down feathers.
Regarded as being sacred by early Egyptians, this native goose of the African continent was introduced into Europe and elsewhere as an ornamental wildfowl species in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century.
The word scoter is often used to define northern sea ducks. There are six different species of scoter, all of which are monotypic and three of which are confined to North America. The Common Scoter like the Velvet Scoter can only be found in Europe and Asia whilst the Stejneger’s Scoter is a native of Asia alone.
Once decimated through overhunting and habitat destruction, the Canada Goose has rebounded to become one of North America’s most abundant and familiar wildfowl.
A small goose species with a short, stubby bill, the brent goose (or brant, as it is known in North America), breeds in the high Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Siberian Russia and northern Europe’s Arctic islands. Brant spend winters along North America’s Pacific coast, part of the east coast of the US, and in north-western Europe, from the British Isles to Denmark.
A subspecies of the North American tundra swan, Bewick’s swans breed in Siberia and arrive in the UK each autumn. Worrying declines have been observed in the European population in recent years, and today only around 4,350 individuals migrate to the UK each winter.
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