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Mute Swan

Photos © Julia Flanagan; June 2009

Mute Swan
Cygnus olor

The Mute Swan, native to much of Europe and Asia, was was introduced to the United States in the late 1800s, primarily for its ornamental value.  Recently, it has been widely viewed as an invasive species because of its rapidly increasing numbers and impact on other waterfowl and native ecosystems.

The name 'mute' derives from its being less vocal than other swan species. It is not always silent, just less vocal than other swans.

The most familiar sound associated with Mute Swan is the vibrant throbbing of the wings in flight once this bird has taken off from the water.

The two sexes are alike in appearance. Males are generally larger than females. The plumage is white. They are best distinguished from North American swans by the knob at the base of the upper bill, and the color of the bill itself, which is orange, with the tip and base colored black.

Young birds are not the bright white of mature adults, and their bill is dull grayish-black, not orange, for the first year.

Mute Swans nest on large mounds that they build with waterside vegetation in shallow water on islands in the middle or at the very edge of a lake.

They are monogamous and often 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 young are fledged it is not uncommon to see whole families looking for food.

They feed on a wide range of vegetation, both submerged aquatic plants which they reach with their long necks, and by grazing on land. The food commonly includes agricultural crop plants such as oilseed rape and wheat.

Feeding flocks in the winter may cause significant crop damage, often as much through trampling with their large webbed feet, as through direct consumption.