Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

Mute Swan

[order] ANSERIFORMES | [family] Anatidae | [latin] Cygnus olor | [authority] Gmelin, 1789 | [UK] Mute Swan | [FR] Cygne tubercule | [DE] Hockerschwan | [ES] Cisne Vulgar | [NL] Knobbelzwaan


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Cygnus olor EU Europe to c Asia


Swans, genus Cygnus, are birds of the family Anatidae, which also includes geese and ducks. Swans are grouped with the closely related geese in the subfamily Anserinae where they form the tribe Cygnini. Sometimes, they are considered a distinct subfamily, Cygninae. There are six to seven species of swan in the genus Cygnus; in addition there is another species known as the Coscoroba Swan, although this species is no longer considered related to the true swans. All evidence suggests that the genus Cygnus evolved in Europe or western Eurasia during the Miocene, spreading all over the Northern Hemisphere until the Pliocene. When the southern species branched off is not known. The Mute Swan apparently is closest to the Southern Hemisphere Cygnus (del Hoyo et al., eds, Handbook of the Birds of the World); its habits of carrying the neck curved (not straight) and the wings fluffed (not flush) as well as its bill color and knob indicate that its closest living relative is actually the Black Swan. Given the biogeography and appearance of the subgenus Olor it seems likely that these are of a more recent origin, as evidence shows by their modern ranges (which were mostly uninhabitable during the last ice age) and great similarity between the taxa.

Physical charateristics

The Mute Swan is a very large, completely white bird with a long neck held in an S-curve. The bill is orange with a black knob at its base. Juveniles are gray or white, with the white morph more common.
Mute Swans graze while walking on land, and feed on submergent, aquatic vegetation by reaching under the water with their long necks. They also adapt to feeding by humans. Highly territorial, males will aggressively defend their large territories against their own and other species, including humans, displaying, hissing, and attacking when provoked.

Listen to the sound of Mute Swan

[audio: Swan.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 200 cm wingspan max.: 240 cm
size min.: 140 cm size max.: 160 cm
incubation min.: 35 days incubation max.: 41 days
fledging min.: 120 days fledging max.: 41 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 9  


Eurasia : Europe to Central Asia


A native of Eurasia, the adaptable Mute Swan inhabits fresh- and saltwater ponds, coastal lagoons, and bays. It is often found in close association with people, but occasionally lives in remote areas as well.


Mute Swans usually form pairs at the age of two, but do not start breeding until their third or fourth year. The male gathers nesting material, and the female builds a shallow mound on a shoreline. The nest is large, five to six feet in diameter, and made of grasses and reeds with a shallow depression. The female performs most of the incubation of the four to six eggs, although the male will step in and allow the female to take breaks for foraging. Incubation lasts for about 36 days, and both adults tend the young, which sometimes ride on their parents’ backs. The young begin to fly at 4 to 5 months but usually remain with the parents through the first winter.

Feeding habits

Mute Swans eat aquatic plant material, grasses, and waste grain. They also eat insects, snails, and other small aquatic creatures.

Video Mute Swan


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
This swan is breeding in the temperate regions of Europe and Asia. It has been introduced in North America, South Africa and Australia. Four populations inhabit the European Union. The sedentary Irish populations can be estimated at 10000 individuals and its trends are unknown. The British and Scottish population is also sedentary. It amounts to 25000 individuals, but is much fluctuating. The population of north-western continental Europe is partially sedentary, partially migrating or nomadic. It is increasing, and can currently be estimated at 210000 individuals. The birds visiting southern Italy and Greece belong to the population of the Black Sea region and eastern Mediterranean, which is also increasing and can be estimated at about 45000 individuals
Mute Swan status Least Concern


Truly wild populations mainly migratory, particularly where displaced by cold weather; spend the winter in more temperate zones. European and feral populations mostly sedentary, males defending territory for most of year. Recorded as vagrant in Pakistan.

Distribution map

Mute Swan distribution range map


Title A 39 year study of a Mute Sw an Cygnus olor population in the English Midlands.
Author(s): Coleman A .E., J.T. Coleman , P.A . Coleman & C.D .T. Minton 2001
Abstract: The results of a long-term study of the Mute Sw an..[more]..
Source: Ardea 89(special issue) : 123-133

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Title Ventilatory and circulatory responses to hyperthermia in the mute swan (Cygnus olor)
Author(s): C. Bech and K. Johansen
Abstract: Ventilatory parameters of mute swans were measured..[more]..
Source: J. exp. Biol. (1980), 88, 195-204

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Title Wintering swans Cygnus spp. and Coot Fulica atra in the Oresund,
South Sweden, in relation to available food recources
Author(s): Leif Nilsson
Abstract: In connection with the building of a Fixed Link (b..[more]..
Source: ORNIS SVECICA 15: 13-21, 2005

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