Mute Swan

Mute Swan sitting on eggs, at Boston Commons

To date, I’ve only seen these swans in two places: the Boston Commons, and then in Great Britain on a trip. They are actually an introduced species to the ‘new world’ and are considered to be quite aggressive, and have large appetites that disturb the local ecosystems.

In terms of coloring, the adults are all white with an orange beak with a black base.

The young swans can come in two color morphs: gray or white. The gray chicks will go through a couple of molts (from gray to gray-brown to white), while the white chicks will have a molt or two of white feathers.

The gray-brown molt of a young mute swan, seen in Kensington Gardens, London UK

In terms of geographical distribution:

Global distribution of the mute swan. Map modified from map for the mute swan.

As previously mentioned these are not native birds to North America. They were originally brought over from Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s for either zoos, or to adorn large estates and parks. Once birds managed to escape from capitivity, they established breeding populations within the United States. They can be spotted within the Northeastern, Midatlantic, Great Lakes, and Pacific Northwest portions of country.

It is native to the ‘Old World’, where it can be found throughout Eurasia, and occasionally wintering in North Africa. It has also been introduced to South Africa, Australia, Iceland, and New Zealand.

The best places for spotting them: the water.

Mute swans swimming in the pond within the Boston Commons

They have a very large appetite–to where they can eat up to eight pounds of submerged aquatic vegetation in a day–leaving very little for other ducks, geese, grebes, or other water birds to eat. They will also supplement their plant diet with animals (usually when they’re molting or early spring before the grasses and other vegetation have started to grow). The animals they’re known to hunt include frogs and tadpoles, fish, snails, mollusks, and insects.

Mute swans and Canada geese seen in Kensington Gardens, London UK

Here are a few other interesting facts on the mute swan:

While the pairs are monogamous, if one dies–the other will remate. If the male dies, the female will usually chose a younger male to mate with (he will join her in her territory). If the female dies, the male will remate and depending on the age of the new female is whether or not the male stays in his own territory. If the new female is younger, she will join the male in his territory, but if she is older the male will go to her territory (giving up his temporarily).

Mute swans in Great Britain (if not marked for food) are considered property of the crown.

They are aggressive birds during breeding season, and have been known to attack anyone (or thing) that wanders too close to thier nest or chicks.

A photography goal: getting a picture of a young swan (when they’re fairly small) from a good distance.

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