european nature gallery


Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Mute Swan

The mute swan (Cygnus olor) is a species of swan and a member of the waterfowl family Anatidae. It is native to much of Eurasia, and (as a rare winter visitor) the far north of Africa. It is an introduced species in North America - home to the largest populations outside of its native range - with additional smaller introductions in Australasia and southern Africa. The name 'mute' derives from it being less vocal than other swan species. Measuring 125 to 170 cm (49 to 67 in) in length, this large swan is wholly white in plumage with an orange beak bordered with black. It is recognisable by its pronounced knob atop the beak, which is larger in males. Adults of this large swan typically range from 140 to 160 cm (55 to 63 in) long, although can range in extreme cases from 125 to 170 cm (49 to 67 in), with a 200 to 240 cm (79 to 94 in) wingspan. Males are larger than females and have a larger knob on their bill. On average, this is the second largest waterfowl species after the trumpeter swan, although male mute swans can easily match or even exceed a male trumpeter in mass. Among standard measurements of the mute swan, the wing chord measures 53–62.3 cm (20.9–24.5 in), the tarsus is 10–11.8 cm (3.9–4.6 in) and the bill is 6.9–9 cm (2.7–3.5 in).
The mute swan is one of the heaviest flying birds. In several studies from Great Britain, males (known as cobs) were found to average from about 10.6 to 11.87 kg (23.4 to 26.2 lb), with a weight range of 9.2–14.3 kg (20–32 lb) while the slightly smaller females (known as pens) averaged about 8.5 to 9.67 kg (18.7 to 21.3 lb), with a weight range of 7.6–10.6 kg (17–23 lb). While the top normal weight for a big cob is roughly 15 kg (33 lb), one unusually big Polish cob weighed almost 23 kg (51 lb) and this counts as the largest weight ever verified for a flying bird, although it has been questioned whether this heavyweight could still take flight.
Young birds, called cygnets, are not the bright white of mature adults, and their bill is dull greyish-black, not orange, for the first year. The down may range from pure white to grey to buff, with grey/buff the most common. The white cygnets have a leucistic gene. Cygnets grow quickly, reaching a size close to their adult size in approximately three months after hatching. Cygnets typically retain their grey feathers until they are at least one year old, with the down on their wings having been replaced by flight feathers earlier that year.
The morph immutabilis ("Polish swan") has pinkish (not dark grey) legs and dull white cygnets; as with white domestic geese, it is only found in populations with a history of domestication. Polish swans carry a copy of a gene responsible for leucism. Mute swans lay from four to ten eggs, and the female broods for around 36 days, with cygnets normally hatching between the months of May and July. The cygnets do not reach the ability of flight before an age of 120 to 150 days: this limits the distribution of the species in the northern edge of its range, as the cygnets must learn to fly before the waters freeze. Mute swans can be very aggressive in defence of their nests and are highly protective of their mate and offspring. Most defensive attacks from a mute swan begin with a loud hiss and, if this is not sufficient to drive off the predator, are followed by a physical attack. Swans attack by smashing at their enemy with bony spurs in the wings, accompanied by biting with their large bill, while smaller waterbirds such as ducks are normally grabbed with the swan's bill and dragged or thrown clear of the swan and its offspring. The wings of the swan are very powerful, though not strong enough to break an adult man's leg, as said anecdotally. Large waterfowl, such as Canada geese, (more likely out of competition than in response to potential predation) may be aggressively driven off, and mute swans regularly attack people who enter their territory. 


(latin: Cygnus olor)

Wednesday, 24 July 2019