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7 Types of Swans: Species, Facts and Photos

This article provides an overview of the unique characteristics, behaviors, and habitats of different types of swans globally. It explores how variations in their diet affect different species and debunks common myths about these waterfowl. Read on to learn more.

General Information about Swans

Swans are waterfowl with an elegant appearance, featuring long necks and large wings. They come in various colors and sizes. You can find them in small ponds, large lakes, winding rivers, and coastal inlets. 

Swans belong to the Anatidae family and are closely related to ducks and geese. For instance, the Coscoroba Swan is not a true swan but is closer to geese.

They are all members of the genus Cygnus and are named after the Latin word for swan. They also live on every continent except Antarctica, mainly in Eurasia and North America.

While some species of swans have come close to extinction, conservation efforts have helped to restore their populations. According to IUCN’s Red List, all of the swan species fortunately only have a Least Concern status.

Read More: Swan Facts.

7 Types of Swan Species

1. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

mute swan
Photo by Altaf Shah on Pexels.

Mute Swans have orange beaks with a black border, and their necks are shaped like the letter "S." They live in various habitats across Europe, Asia, North America, Australia, and South Africa. 

The Mute Swan is one of the largest birds in the waterfowl family, with males sometimes as tall as 5.2 feet with a wingspan of up to 8.2 feet. Despite its size, this bird is agile in water and land. 

Although its name implies it is a silent bird, it can make sounds during the breeding season or when it feels threatened. These sounds consist of hisses and grunts, which the bird uses to protect its territory.

2. Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

trumpeter swan
Photo byAndrew Patrick on Pexels.

The Trumpeter Swan is a North American bird featuring pristine white feathers, black bills, and trumpet-like honking. Like Mute Swans, Trumpeter Swans are large and agile.

These types of swans primarily inhabit Alaska, Canada, and the northwestern United States and prefer serene environments such as shallow ponds or slow-flowing rivers. 

Additionally, they mate for life and are active parents. During breeding season, the female lays 4-6 eggs on a nest near water, and both parents take turns incubating them for 32-37 days. Trumpeter Swans are known for their fidelity and devotion to their young.

Trumpeter Swans, nearing extinction in the early 20th century due to heavy hunting and lead poisoning, are key to conservation efforts. Fortunately, the discovery of a large population in Alaska's Copper River became crucial for their resurgence, emphasizing the importance of wildlife management in preserving species.

3. Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

tundra swan
Photo by Dominic Sherony on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Tundra Swan, or the Whistling Swan, is widespread in North America, Eurasia, Africa, and the Caribbean. They travel long distances during migration season to escape the harsh Arctic winter. American Tundra Swans fly towards the warmer coasts of the United States. At the same time, the Eurasian Tundra Swans seek refuge in western Europe and eastern Asia. 

Their diet changes according to their environment; they feed on aquatic plants, grains, and small invertebrates.

4. Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

whooper swan
Photo by DickDaniels on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Whooper Swans are large bird species that inhabit the northern regions of Europe and Asia. Their wingspan ranges from 6.75 to 9.2 feet, and they have a distinctive yellow wedge-shaped beak. 

Despite their size, they are social creatures and often form large groups during migration and wintering. 

They feed mainly on aquatic plants, roots, and tubers but can resort to foraging in farmlands for food during the winter season. 

Breeding season starts in late April or early May; they build nests on the ground near water sources. Both parents are responsible for raising the young swans, called cygnets, who are ready to fly after two months.

5. Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)

black swan
Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.

The Black Swan is native to Australia. It measures 5 feet long and has an expansive wingspan of up to 6.6 feet. 

Their feathers are not truly black; instead, they are a dark gray with an iridescent sheen that appears black under certain lighting conditions. Moreover, a hidden line of white flight feathers on the edge of the wings becomes visible when the bird takes flight. 

The swan's fiery red eyes and vibrant red bill, tipped with a contrasting pale bar, are also noteworthy.

The diet of the Black Swan primarily consists of aquatic and marshland vegetation. However, they occasionally supplement their diet with tiny aquatic creatures and insects. They also consume grasses and grains found on land.

Notably, Black Swans stick with their chosen mate for life. They revisit their old nesting sites yearly and breed during the cool, wet winter months. The female lays a clutch of 4 to 8 eggs, and both parents are responsible for incubating the eggs. They typically nest amidst reeds and grasses.

6. Black-necked Swan (Cygnus melancoryphus)

black-necked swan
Photo by Airam Dato-on on Pexels.

The Black-Necked Swans live in southern South America's freshwater marshes. They have dark necks and a white body, and a red knob near the base of their bill. 

Although generally a silent bird, it emits soft, musical whistles on rare occasions. 

This type of swan is caring and protective towards its cygnets, often carrying them on its back as it swims across the lakes and marshes.

7. Bewick's Swan (Cygnus bewickii)

bewick's swan
Photo by Amanda Slater on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Bewick's Swan is a migratory species that travels from Siberia's Arctic tundra to Western Europe's milder winters for about 2,200 miles, with the United Kingdom being a favorite stopover. 

It is the smallest swan in the cygnet lineup, and it has a unique yellow and black beak, distinguishing it from its big cousin, the Whooper Swan. 

During winter, these swans gather in large groups. Meanwhile, during the spring, they become fiercely territorial for a bit of romance and nesting. They also return to the same wintering sites yearly.

Extinct Species

Swans have an esteemed place in natural history. However, it's crucial to shed light on a few that no longer grace our waters. 

The Giant Swan, scientifically known as Cygnus falconeri, was a giant swan during the Pleistocene era. Residing in the Mediterranean islands of Malta and Sicily, this imposing bird is a third larger than Mute Swans. Due to their size, they could be flightless.

Speaking of the New Zealand Swan, or Cygnus sumnerensis as it's called scientifically, this swan once inhabited the freshwater lakes of New Zealand. Unfortunately, fossil evidence suggests this swan disappeared before Polynesian settlement1, pointing to a potential environmental cause for its extinction.

These tales of extinct swans aren't meant to cause dismay. Instead, they serve as a testament to the constant change of our planet's fauna. The hope is that this understanding can foster a sense of responsibility for preserving the species we have the privilege to coexist with today.

Conclusion

Swans are crucial to the world's biodiversity. They help manage aquatic vegetation, create habitats for other species, and indicate environmental health. Even if their population is thriving, they still face the threats of habitat loss and climate change. Therefore, conservation efforts are crucial to ensure their well-being and ecological significance.

1

Rawlence, N. J., Kardamaki, A., Easton, L. J., Tennyson, A. J. D., Scofield, R. P., & Waters, J. M. (2017). Ancient DNA and morphometric analysis reveal extinction and replacement of New Zealand’s unique black swans. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1859), 20170876.

By Mike Gomez, BA.

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:
Isabela Sedano, BEng.

Photo by Max Felis on Unsplash.
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