Swans

Swans live on large freshwater areas, such as rivers, lakes and canals. They are both majestic and clumsy at the same time, yet remain one of our most magnificent birds. They have been treasured and owned by royalty during our history and alway attract admiring glances from people when they spot one.

If you find an injured or stranded swan, please call us or your nearest rescue.

The adult swans are all white, whilst their young cygnets are grey to begin with and then develop brown feathers which they keep until their second year. They have a reddish-orange bill, with a black knob of skin at the base.

They can be up to 1.5m high with a wingspan of 2.25m. Males weigh approximately 12kg and females around 8-10kg.

Most swans do not live more than 7 years in the wild but some can actually live up to 50 years.

They eat underwater plants, grasses and cereal crops. The graceful mute swan is Britain's largest bird and one of the heaviest flying birds in the world. There are six other species of swan in the world, but the mute is the only one that stays in the UK, with us, all year

The male swan (cob) will fiercely defend the territory that he and his mate (pen) share. If an intruder, such as another male swan, dares to invade his territory, he uses a threat posture - raising his wings and back feathers, while lowering his head and moving powerfully through the water. This display usually frightens away the intruder, but if this doesn't work, the defending cob can drown intruders. Most other water birds know to keep well away from swans.

Mute swans pair for life. They will mate and then begin building a nest in March and April. The nest is built on the ground, near to water and in an undisturbed place.

The cob collects reeds and sticks, bringing them to the female so she can arrange them. The nest is often a very big platform-like structure, and may be the pair's old nest, which has been rebuilt and used year after year. Although the cob and pen look very similar at first glance, they can be told apart by looking at their beaks. In the spring and summer the cob's bill is a brighter colour than the pens, and the black knob is more bulbous. The cob is never far from his mate on the nest, keeping an eye out for intruders. If a potential predator gets too close, he will hiss at them and if necessary will charge at them with flapping wings.

The pen lays 5 - 8 large, greenish-brown eggs, one every two days. She does most of the incubation, which starts as soon as the last egg has been laid. This allows all the young to hatch at the same time - after 36 days. Soon after hatching, the young swans (cygnets) covered with fluffy, grey down, leave the nest. Their parents pull up water plants for them to eat, and they snap up mini beasts from the surface of the water.

The cygnets stay with their parents until the next winter - by which time they are losing the brown plumage that had replaced the grey down. It will be a full year before they are completely white, and they will be ready to breed when they are 3/4 years old. At this time of the year we see a lot of young swans in that have become lost as they leave their home - some land in very strange places! They can often mistake roads for rivers and once down, they become disorientated, weak and unable to fly. We see an influx of teenage swans at this time. Swans need a lot of space to be able get back into the sky if you see one in distress please phone your nearest rescue center.

For centuries, mute swans were known as 'birds royal' because only the king or a few specially favoured subjects could keep them. They were often served up and roasted at banquets - a roast swan must have required a very large plate!

Flight feathers from the female swan were used as writing implements, then known as 'pen quills' and later as 'quill pens', until the 'quill' was left out and only the word 'pen' remained. So our present-day ballpoint etc. take their name from the female swan!

Over the last 30 - 40 years, the mute swan population has fluctuated. Many swans living on rivers where coarse fishing is popular, died because they were swallowing lead fishing weights with their food. Lead is very poisonous! Since 1987, the use of lead weights has been banned in the UK and its swan population has recovered. The main hazards we still see are carelessly discarded fishhooks and lengths of nylon fishing line - both can cause a swan to suffer a painful death. The hook gets lodged in the throat and the throat gets ripped open. We treat many swans through the year that have been injured by fishing hooks and fishing tackle.

If you see a swan in distress call your local rescue and they will have the equipment to come and help rescue the wonderful creature.

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