Mute Swan - Cygnus olor
Mute swans are one of Britain's largest and heaviest birds. One particular family resides at Wetlands.
Length:140-160cm, Wingspan: 200-240cm, Weight: can be as heavy as 15kg.
Mute swans are very large white birds, with a long, elegant neck. The bill is orange or pinkish in colour with black on the lower part and around the nostrils. Between the eyes and the bill is an area of featherless black skin that forms a hump over the bill - this is bigger in males. Young, known as cygnets, have grey feathers and a pale bill. They lack the hump on their bills.
They are a year-round resident throughout Britain and Ireland. They are also found in Northern Europe and Central Asia.
Mute swans inhabit lakes, slow-moving rivers and canals often near human activity. They are generally found near the coast during winter.
Mute swans are mostly vegetarian but will occasionally eat small insects and fish.
Swans feed by submerging their head and neck in the water. They will also ingest small amounts of gravel to help them to digest food. Male swans are very territorial and will chase intruders away, adopting an aggressive pose with their wings arched over their backs and charging at their opponents. They take off from the water by running very fast with their wings flapping. The swan’s feet and wings cause a great deal of splashing and the swan reaches a considerable speed before it becomes airborne. Swans can fly at speeds of up to 55mph. When landing on water the swan uses its feet like water-skis and gently ‘skis’ to a halt. Swans rest with their heads folded back and tucked under a wing.
Mute swans establish strong bonds when they pair up. They do not always pair for life, as is widely believed, but instead may have as many as 4 mates during their lifetimes. The nests are built on the ground out of twigs and reeds. The female lays 5-9 large white, green-tinged eggs. The female (pen) performs most of the incubating duty but the male (cob) keeps watch and will occasionally take over for brief periods. Eggs hatch after 35 days and after a day or two the cygnets will take to the water with their mother. The mother will aggressively defend her young from predators and humans. The cygnets will sometimes climb under the adults' wings for shelter. This keeps them warm and also protects them from predators such as pike.
Swans were, for many centuries, kept for food. It is thought that this prevented them from being hunted to extinction as they were in other parts of Europe. Nowadays, swans are under threat from different sources. As swans ingest grit to help them digest food they sometimes accidentally ingest pieces of lead discarded by fishermen. This breaks down in their stomachs and causes muscular and nervous damage. Affected swans have kinked necks because their muscles are too weak to support their necks properly. Lead fishing weights are now banned in Britain but there are still some left at the bottoms of rivers and lakes that could be ingested by a swan. Many swans are injured when they collide with power lines. It is suspected that some collisions may be caused by the effects of lead poisoning.
Mute swans are so-called because, compared to other kinds of swan, they make very little noise. However, they have a few distinctive calls, such as a hissing noise when scaring away an aggressor, a snorting 'heeor' call and a gull-like 'ga-oh' sound.
When flying in groups, swans adopt a v-shaped formation known as a ‘wedge’ of swans.
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