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Mute Swan

Cygnus olor

The mute swan is a large, white bird that lives on shallow waters throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. It is an invasive species.
The mute swan is a large, white bird that lives on shallow waters throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. It is an invasive species.

The mute swan is a large, white bird that lives on shallow waters throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. It is an invasive species.

Appearance:

The mute swan has a white body and a long neck that is held in a graceful S-curve. It has an orange bill with a black knob at the base and black to grayish-pink legs and feet. Mute swans grow to 5 feet long with a wingspan of 7 to 8 feet and weigh up to 25 pounds.

Habitat:

Found on shallow waters along the Chesapeake Bay, including rivers, creeks and wetlands, and also live on inland lakes and ponds. Moves to deeper waters in winter when the shallows freeze over. Can establish large territories of 4 to 10 acres.

Range:

Native to Europe and Asia; found year-round throughout the Chesapeake Bay region, including Maryland, Virginia and the Susquehanna River Valley of Pennsylvania. Largest populations are historically found in Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Dorchester counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Feeding:

The mute swan eats bay grasses such as eelgrass and widgeon grass, pulling out whole plant, including their roots and rhizomes. Adults eat more than eight pounds of bay grasses every day. They feed by submerging their head and neck underwater, sometimes “tipping up” their tail in the process. During the winter, they will also eat wheat and other grains from farm fields.

Predators:

Mute swans have no natural predators in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Flight:

The mute swan holds its neck stretched straight ahead. It often flies in pairs or small groups. Its wingbeats make a whooshing or whirring sound.

Voice:

Usually silent, males will bark or hiss at intruders to their nesting area.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

Mute swans begin breeding by their third spring. The female builds a large nest of down and marsh grasses close to the water. The female lays 4 to 10 light gray or bluish-green eggs that hatch in about 35 days and produce an average of six young, called cygnets. While the female is incubating her eggs and when cygnets are young, the male is very territorial and protective of the nest. It will hiss at and chase away intruders, including humans and other birds. Cygnets are brownish-gray and lack the black knob at the base of their bills. They turn all white by their second year. Parents chase their young out of the nest before the next breeding season begins. Mute swans usually live less than 10 years in the wild.

Other Facts:

  • Mute swans are the largest bird in the Chesapeake Bay region.
  • They were introduced to the Bay region in 1962 when five mute swans escaped from an estate in Talbot County, Maryland.
  • Mute swans can be confused with native tundra swans. You can distinguish a mute swan by its orange bill and gracefully curved neck. Also, mute swans live in the Bay region year-round, while tundra swans only visit in winter.

Sources and Additional Information:

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