swan facts

10 Swan Facts About The Graceful Waterfowl

Aside from white feathers and elegantly curved necks, swans also have a range of other intriguing characteristics you might now know. Different species of swans have unique features, behavior, and habits. This list of swan facts reveals several of their noteworthy characteristics.

One of these facts is that swans are monogamous and have a long lifespan. They also produce unique sounds, like the trumpeter swan that honks like its namesake. If you're excited to explore the world of these graceful creatures, browse our fact list now.

Get to know more about waterfowl by saving our duck facts and goose facts.

10 Fun Facts About Swans

beautiful white waterfowl
Photo by Robert Woeger on Unsplash

1. Swans are one of the world's largest flying birds.

Swans are one of the largest flying birds on Earth2. For instance, the mute swan species weigh up to 33 pounds. Moreover, these birds have impressive wingspans of up to ten feet, which is rare among birds. 

Besides flight, a swan's wings also provide balance during aquatic activities. Observing swans shows how nature accommodates size and weight in a creature designed for swimming and flying.

Related: Learn more about another giant flying bird with our albatross facts.

2. Swans can fly and swim.

flying swan
Photo by C Perret on Unsplash

Despite their size, swans show excellent agility in the air and water. Firstly, their mighty wings allow swans to fly up to 70 miles per hour while their usual cruising speed is approximately 30 mph.

In addition to aerial abilities, swans can navigate through water. Swans can swim up to 1.6 mph in lakes and rivers thanks to their webbed feet.

3. Swans can sleep on land and water.

While floating, swans snooze while tucking their heads under their wings. On land, they are similar to flamingos. Still hidden under their fluffed feathers, swans sleep while standing on one leg. Like the pink birds, this balancing act helps them retain warmth by minimizing the loss of body heat through their featherless limbs. 

4. Black swans exist.

Believed to be rare, black swans live mainly in the southern regions of Australia with a widespread population. Additionally, these species have been introduced to different areas like Europe and Japan for ornamental purposes.

The black swan is among the seven remaining species of swans. The other six are Bewick's swans, Black-necked swans, Mute swans, Whooper swans, Tundra swans, and Trumpeter swans. Although predominantly black, they have white primary feathers hidden underneath and red bills with white tips. Despite their different colors, black and white swans can produce viable offspring.

If you're from the United Kingdom, the swan fact below will interest you.

5. The British Queen owns all unclaimed swans in the UK.

swimming white bird
Photo by sankar govind on Flickr CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original)

In the 12th century, Great Britain passed a law that granted ownership of all unmarked swans in open waters to the British Queen, which remains in effect.

If you think it's weird, remember that they passed the law to ensure the monarchy had access to swans because they liked eating them. However, the law only applied to mute swans, easily identifiable by their orange beaks with a black knob at the base. Also, today, people rarely consume swan meat in the UK.

So, the law has given way to a traditional event known as 'Swan Upping,' occurring every third week of July on the River Thames. For five days, the Queen's Swan Marker and a group of Swan Uppers embark on a journey up the river to count swans and monitor their health. While no longer a feast for the monarchy, owning swans is part of the country's conservation effort to protect its natural heritage. 

Before proceeding, did you know that the "swan song" idiom comes from Ancient Greece? The ancient Greeks believed that swans sang before they died.

6. Swans observe unique mating behaviors.

swan couples
Photo by Šárka Krňávková on Unsplash

The swans' synchronized water dance involves one swan making a move mirrored by its companion. This exchange, known as 'billing,' is a conversation between the two swans and a declaration of shared interest. Likewise, the dance might be a prelude to a long-lasting bond between the two swans.

After their distinctive billing dance, the two swans build their nest. The male swan or cob gathers materials, while the female swan or pen arranges them. Their shared nest is often over a meter in diameter and near the water.

The pen lays her eggs in the nest and incubates them for about a month. During this time, the cob protects the nest, watching for potential threats.

7. Swans mate for life.

Swans typically choose a partner and remain loyal to them throughout their life. This behavior allows swans to prioritize raising their young instead of expending energy on seeking new partners.

Male swans perform intricate courtship rituals during the breeding season, such as synchronized swimming and mirroring each other's movements. If a partner dies, the remaining swan undergoes a mourning period, which may last for years.

Similar to their majestic appearance, the next swan fact says the same for their mating behaviors.

8. Baby swans can swim after hatching.

Photo by Robert Ruggiero on Unsplash

Upon hatching from their shells, these baby swans, or cygnets, display a remarkable readiness for life. Cygnets can instinctively navigate their new environment immediately and swim right after hatching. 

Their innate swimming ability is due to their fluffy and waterproof layer of down feathers, which serves as a lifejacket. Even freshly hatched cygnets can float, which helps them survive and grow. Their muscles strengthen as they paddle on the water, building a foundation for developing into adult swans.

As graceful as they look, the swan fact below introduces another side.

9. Swans can be aggressive.

These majestic birds might have a peaceful reputation, but swans can become fiercely protective of their young and territory1. Both male and female swans display territorial tendencies during the nesting season; males are more combative. They use their wings, typically symbols of grace, as weapons to face threats approaching their nest. Swans also use their sharp beaks with precision. 

10. Some swan species are vulnerable.

Whooper swans and tundra swans face threats to their survival. Habitat loss and hunting are the main factors endangering these species. Wetlands–swan breeding and feeding grounds–are diminishing, posing a severe risk to the whooper swan native to Northern Europe and Asia. 

Similarly, the tundra swan, found in North America, is at risk due to climate change and industrial development. Hunters also target these birds for their feathers, which are in constant high demand for fashion and decor. Conservation strategies are urgently needed to ensure the survival of these species and others facing similar risks. 

Share your love for these beautiful waterfowl by posting your favorite swan facts online.

Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with S.

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1

Wood, K.A., Ham, P., Scales, J. et al. Aggressive behavioural interactions between swans (Cygnus spp.) and other waterbirds during winter: a webcam-based study. Avian Research,11, 30 (2020).

2

Johnsgard, P. A. (2016). Swans: Their Biology and Natural History. Zea E-Books Collection. 38.

Mike is a degree-qualified researcher and writer passionate about increasing global awareness about climate change and encouraging people to act collectively in resolving these issues.

Fact Checked By:
Chinny Verana, BSc.

Photo by Marcus Lange on Unsplash
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