The mute swan is native to Eurasia but strangely, its closest relatives are the black swan of Australia and the black necked swan of South America. Mute swans are so named because they make less noise than other swans.
The elegance of the swan often portrayed in Russian ballet led to it being a popular bird kept on large estates. Escapees have often led to local populations especially in the northern USA.
These birds are regarded as monogamous, having a single partner for life but sadly as is often the case in life, some do pair off again with a different partner. This is particularly true when a partner dies in which case the older bird remains in their territory and the younger bird relocates.
An interesting tradition in the UK is that an unmarked (swans are no longer marked) mute swan on the Thames is regarded as belonging to the Queen. The Queen also still maintains an officially appointed swan keeper – the ceremony still takes place on the third Monday of July.
This tradition has been carried forward since the 12th century when swans were used for banquets. On a portion of the Thames there is still a traditional “Swan Upping”, in which the swans are counted by a group headed by the official swan marker. This tradition has changed somewhat over the last 800 odd years to be more focused on conservation and education.
Mute Swans are one of the heaviest flying birds which is not surprising as a study in Maryland found that they ate in the region of 8 pounds (3.6 kg) a day. they have a loud throbbing beat when flying that can be heard up to a mile (1.6 km) away and can reach a speed of up to 50 mph (80 km/h).
These birds migrate from Northern Europe to Eastern Europe and occasionally to Africa. In the UK, they do not migrate as such but do change feeding grounds.
Mute swans nest on mounds they build consisting of waterside vegetation. These are usually on islands or in shallow waters of big lakes.
They often use the same nest year after year and after 42 days incubation the cygnets hatch. there are between 4 and 10 eggs that are incubated by both parents.
Once the cygnets have hatched they can be seen moving around as a family eating both submerged as well as surface or shore vegetation. Both parents care for the young.
The young swans will learn to fly after about 5 months and can expect to live for 20 to 30 years.