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Mute Swan

Cygnus olor

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

Appearance:

  • White body
  • Orange bill with a black knob at the base
  • Long neck that is held in a graceful S-curve
  • Black to grayish-pink legs and feet
  • Grows to 5 feet long with a wingspan of 7-8 feet
  • Weighs up to 25 pounds

Habitat:

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

Range:

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

Feeding:

  • Eats bay grasses such as eelgrass and widgeon grass
  • Pulls out whole plants, including their roots and rhizomes
  • Adults eat more than eight pounds of bay grasses every day
  • Feeds by submerging its head and neck underwater to reach its food, sometimes “tipping up” its tail in the process
  • Will also eat wheat and other grains from farm fields during winter

Predators:

  • No natural predators in the Chesapeake Bay watershed

Flight:

  • Holds its neck stretched straight ahead
  • Often flies in pairs or small groups
  • Wingbeats make a whooshing or whirring sound

Voice:

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

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Begins breeding by its third spring
  • The female builds a large nest of down and marsh grasses close to the water
  • The female lays 4-10 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
  • Usually lives less than 10 years in the wild

Other Facts:

  • The largest bird in the Chesapeake Bay region
  • Introduced in 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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