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swan facts

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Swans are known the world over for their beauty, grace and elegance.

The swan is a waterfowl that can swim and fly with amazing speed and agility. The bird is also very intelligent, loyal to its mate, and very protective of its young. They are common in temperate and cold climates worldwide.

A set of swan stamps
Swans like to live together as a family unit and stay together for life

©john hambleton/Shutterstock.com

An incredible bird: 4 facts about swans!

  • The English word swan is also shared with German and Dutch. It probably originated from the Old Indo-European word swen, meaning to vocalize or sing.
  • The black swan is often cited as a symbol of rare and unexpected events because ancient writers believed it didn't exist. This was believed to be true until the discovery of black swans in Australia, which are actually quite common in the region.
  • This bird can travel much faster on land than you might think, at speeds of up to 22 mph. In water, it can also reach speeds of around 1.6 miles per hour by paddling with its webbed feet. But if they spread their wings, swans can let the wind carry them at higher speeds while saving energy.
  • These birds feature prominently in human mythology and art around the world. Some of the most famous stories involve perversions and transformations. A Greek legend claims that the god Zeus once disguised himself as a swan. The famous 19th-century Tchaikovsky ballet "Swan Lake" is based on Russian and German folk tales, telling the story of a princess who is cursed to turn into a swan. Of course, Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Ugly Duckling" tells the story of a duck turning into a swan.

You can check out more incredible facts about swans.

scientific name

The scientific name of the genus Cygnus is Cygnus (from the Greek and Latin words for swan). There are six extant species of swans, and many others are known from the fossil record. These include:

  • Black Swan (Cygnus atratus): Found in the wetlands of southwestern and eastern Australia, this large swan can reach a length of 56 inches and a wingspan of 6.6 feet. It is known for its dark plumage, white flight feathers, and red beak.
  • Black-necked swan (Cygnus melancoryphus): Members of this species have dark head and neck feathers, a bit of white behind the eyes, and a lump at the base of the beak that appears at three or four years of age. They live in South America and are found in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay.
  • Coscoroba Swan ( Coscoroba coscoroba ): A relatively small swan, this bird can grow up to 61 inches with a wingspan of 155 cm. It can be found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
  • Mute swan (Cygnus olor): Members of this subspecies have original white plumage and an orange beak with a black base. They are monogamous and build their nests on the edge or center of water bodies and build as needed. They weigh up to 32 lbs.
  • Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus bucciinator): Known for its pristine white plumage and black beak, this bird can weigh up to 28 pounds. Considered the largest waterfowl in North America, it can also grow to 5 feet 11 inches with a maximum wingspan of 8 feet 2 inches.

Other species include the tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus) and whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus). These birds belong to the same waterfowl family (scientific name Anatidae) as ducks and geese.


According to experts, swans were distributed north of the equator between the Miocene (23-5.3 million years ago) and the slightly warmer Pleistocene (5.3-2.58 million years ago).

During this time, the Earth gradually cooled. Cockatoos, crows, teals, plovers, ostriches and owls also make appearances during this time.

the emergence of birds

These birds move impressively through the water with grace, and are characterized by their large bodies, long, curved necks, and large feet. Each species has different colored plumage. The common mute swan is almost completely covered in white feathers, save for the orange beak and some black markings on the face. Trumpeter swans have white plumage and a black beak, while tundra and whooper swans have a mixture of black and yellow on their beaks. The black-necked swan, as the name suggests, has black feathers on its neck, a black beak with a red bump around the beak, and white markings around the eyes. The black swan is covered with black feathers and has a bright red beak with a light-colored tip.

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These birds are the largest waterfowl and one of the largest birds in the world. The longest species is the trumpeter's swan, which is about 5.5 feet long and has a wingspan of about 10 feet. The heaviest species is the 30-pound mute swan (sometimes reaching 50 pounds), but as intimidating as it is, this extra weight is a problematic trait that makes it more difficult to fly. They compensate for it with weaker honeycomb bones. Males (called cobs) are generally larger than females (called pens), but their plumage characteristics are very similar.

Two white swans.
Two white swans.

©Ira Kalinicheva/Shutterstock.com

bird behavior

Two whooper swans swim in a Finnish lake
Swans form tight lifelong bonds

©Teemu Tretjakov/Shutterstock.com

Among the most notable social traits of these birds is that they form a tight, lifelong bond with a single mate. Unlike many other birds (even the closely related geese and ducks), this has some distinct advantages. First, it allows the couple to learn from their reproductive failures and develop better strategies. Second, the couple will share several duties, including building the nest out of grass, twigs, reeds, and other vegetation. This makes them more effective than themselves. Third, because of their long migration routes, they have less time to acquire a mate, so a lifelong bond actually saves them time.

While it's logical for the couple to remain faithful to each other throughout their lives, even swan-like loyalty has its limits. Cheating appears to occur with regularity in female black swans, perhaps as a backup reproductive strategy. An estimated one in seven eggs in this species is the result of adultery. If the couple is unable to produce any offspring at all, it is possible for swans of any species to break up with each other and find new mates.

These birds are very defensive animals and will do whatever it takes to protect their young. To repel threats, they perform a performance called busking, which involves hissing, snoring and flapping their wings. With their relatively weak bones, this display is largely bravado with little power behind it, but that doesn't stop them from gloating. After chasing off a predator, they make a triumphant cry. They also communicate through various other vocalizations emanating from the trachea or sternum, including goose-like hooting in some species. Even so-called mute swans can hiss, snore or grunt.

After the breeding season, the bird migrates to warmer climates during the winter, flying in a diagonal V with about 100 other birds. When the lead bird tires, another bird takes its place in front. These birds can migrate partially or completely, depending on where they nest. Fully migratory species typically live in colder climates and may migrate thousands of miles each year along the same route to warmer climates.

bird habitat

These birds are endemic to ponds, lakes, rivers, estuaries and wetlands around the world. Most species prefer temperate or arctic climates and migrate during the cooler seasons. The common mute swan is native to Europe. It was later introduced to North America (where it flourished), New Zealand, Japan, and South Africa. As their name suggests, tundra swans inhabit the arctic regions of North America and Asia, but migrate south to Texas and northern Mexico during the winter. Other species include whooper swans in Eurasia, trumpet swans in North America, black-necked swans in South America, and black swans in Australia.


The bird is a herbivore that feeds exclusively on roots, leaves, stems, buds and other vegetation. While swimming in the water, it feeds by a method called "wading," in which it inverts and uses its long neck to reach down onto vegetation at the bottom of the floor. The bird can also come ashore in search of food.

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Predators and Threats

fox lying on leaves
Foxes are very fond of swan eggs and may even try to take a bite or more from an adult animal

©RT Images/Shutterstock.com

These birds are large, fast, capable of flight, and aggressive (at least when threatened) as a deterrent to most predators, but old, sick and young (especially eggs) can sometimes Killed by foxes, raccoons, wolves, and other carnivorous mammals. Habitat loss, pollution, and overhunting all pose ongoing threats, but they can adapt well to human habitation, and reclaiming ponds and lakes for native wildlife keeps their numbers high. In the future, swan habitats and migration patterns will be affected by climate change.

Bird Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

cygnet hitchhiking
Cygnets are excellent swimmers once they hatch, however, there's nothing like riding on the back of a doting parent


Swan courtship involves an elaborate series of bonding rituals, such as mouth dips, synchronized swimming and head touches (when their curved necks form a heart shape). Swans also dance, make sounds and spend time with each other. Australian black swans even have special feathers to help them attract mates. Some swan species mate for life.

After a pair has mated, the female pen lays a clutch of about three to eight unmarked eggs in a nest (black swans are the only species that lay multiple clutches per year). She incubates the eggs most of the time, while the male stands guard nearby, but the male also sometimes participates in hatching duties. This gives the female time to eat extra food and rebuild her fat reserves.

The incubation period usually lasts one month. Once they hatch, cygnets have short necks and thick feathers. They can run and swim almost immediately, but the parents still tend to the cygnets carefully and sometimes ride them on their backs. These birds take on a mottled gray or brown appearance for at least the first two years of life. They reach full sexual maturity after three to four years and have a life expectancy of about 20 years in the wild and up to 50 years in captivity.


The entire genus of Cygnus is very healthy thanks to years of protection. According to the IUCN Red List, which tracks the status of many animal populations around the world, every species of swan is listed as least of concern, the best prediction for conservation. Population numbers around the world, while imprecise, appear to be stabilizing or increasing. The number of trumpeter swans endemic to North America was reduced to 100 in 1935 but has since recovered.

Birds at the Zoo: Where to Find Swans

Although it's common around the world, the swan is a very popular feature in many U.S. zoos, often floating around ponds. Trumpeter swans are kept at the Minnesota Zoo, the Maryland Zoo and Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. Tundra swans can be found at the New England Zoo. The Denver Zoo also has a black-necked swan named Swanton on display.

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Swan FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the difference between a swan and a goose?

When comparing swans and geese, both animals belong to the same family. However, they do have differences. Swans are usually larger and more comfortable on the water. In addition, they have an "S"-shaped curved neck that geese do not have.

What is the name of the little swan?

Little swans are called cygnets. This is a word meaning little swan, derived from the genus name for the constellation Cygnus.

What does the swan symbolize?

The swan symbolizes different things to different people. In ancient Greece, they were symbols of religious piety. They are revered for their purity and holiness in Hinduism. Because of their lifelong bond, they also symbolize love and devotion around the world.

Commonly known as "Swan Song", which means the sad cry of swans when they die, seems to be a myth. It is still often used in modern English to signify a final graceful exit, but the origin of this belief is unclear. According to Jeremy Mynott, author of a book on birds of the ancient world, the phrase may be related to the swan's association with Apollo, the god of prophecy and music. According to the philosopher Plato, the swan song is "a metaphorical celebration of the afterlife". Instead of mourning their own death, Plato wrote, the swans "rejoice to know that they are leaving this life to join the gods they serve". Other ancient writers were skeptical of this swan song and tried to debunk it. Recently, some scientists have tried to find a more rational and scientific explanation for this belief, but it is more likely to be based entirely on symbolism and mythology.

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Do swans die after their mates die?

Although the swans are very loyal to each other, they don't die of grief. This appears to be a myth derived from dubious ancient sources. If a mate dies prematurely, the surviving swans usually seek out a new mate. How they feel after the death of their spouse isn't entirely clear because we can't quite get a sense of what they were thinking.

Can swans fly?

Yes, swans fly very fast and skillfully, reaching speeds of 30 MPH or even 60 MPH with a tailwind. After reaching an altitude of 8,000 feet, they migrate great distances during the winter, sometimes over 1,000 miles.

How much does a swan weigh?

The average weight of swans varies between 15 pounds for black-necked swans and 30 pounds or more for mute swans.

Are swans herbivores, carnivores or omnivores?

Swans are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.

To which kingdom do swans belong?

Swans belong to the animal kingdom.

Which category do swans belong to?

Swans belong to the class of birds.

What door do swans belong to?

Swans belong to the phylum Chordate.

What family do swans belong to?

Swans belong to the duck family.

What order do swans belong to?

Swans belong to the order Anseriformes.

What type of mulch does Swans have?

The swan is covered with feathers.

What genus do swans belong to?

Swans belong to the genus Cygnus.

What type of habitat do swans live in?

Swans live in large expanses of shallow wetlands and open water.

What is the main prey of swans?

Swans eat aquatic plants, insects and small fish.

Who are the natural enemies of swans?

Predators of swans include humans, wolves, and raccoons.

What are the distinctive features of a swan?

Swans have large, powerful wings and webbed feet.

How many eggs does a swan lay?

Swans usually lay 5 eggs.

What are some interesting facts about swans?

Swan populations affected by pollution!

What is the scientific name of the swan?

The scientific name of the swan is Cygnus atratus.

What is the lifespan of a swan?

Swans can live 8 to 12 years.

What is the wingspan of a swan?

Swans have a wingspan of 200 cm to 350 cm (79 inches to 138 inches).

How do swans give birth?

Swans lay eggs.

What is the difference between a swan and a duck?

There are many differences between ducks and swans. Swans are much larger than ducks, but ducks come in more colors. Ducks don't mate for life, swans do.

Thanks for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

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