The Swan is a large Waterfowl closely related to Geese and Ducks, known for its fierce temperament and aggressive behavior especially when it protects its nest. They are gracefully long-necked, heavy-bodied and big-footed birds that glide majestically when swimming, and fly with slow wingbeats and with necks outstretched. Swans migrate in diagonal formation or V-formation at great heights, and no other Waterfowl moves as fast on the water or in the air.
This bird is found on both sides of the Equator across the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The northern swan is generally white in color with an orange beak, and the southern swan tends to be a mixture of white and black in color with red, orange or black beaks.
Swans are also the largest members of the Waterfowl family and are among the largest flying birds. The largest species, including the Mute Swan, the Trumpeter Swan, and the Whooper Swan, can reach a length of over 1.5 m, weigh over 15 kg and their wingspans can be over 3.1 m. Swans utter a variety of sounds from the windpipe, which in some species is looped within the breastbone (as in Cranes); even the Mute Swan, the least vocal species, often hisses, makes soft snoring sounds, or grunts sharply.
Adult swans also have a patch of un-feathered skin between the eyes and the bill. The sexes are alike in plumage, but males are generally bigger and heavier than females. Swans are omnivorous birds but they have a very vegetarian diet. They eat underwater vegetation such as seaweed and aquatic plants when they are on the water and a mixture of plants, seeds and berries when they are on land. Swans also eat insects both water and land based and the occasional small fish.
Although swans only reach sexual maturity between 4 and 7 years, they can form socially monogamous pair bonds from as early as 20 months that last for many years and in some cases, these can last for life. Swans build their nests on the ground near water out of twigs and leaves. Unlike many other Ducks and Geese the male swan (Cob) helps with the nest construction. The female (Pen) lays 3-8 eggs and incubates them for 34-40 days while the cob keeps close guard; and in some species, he takes his turn at brooding. The young (Cygnets) are capable of running and swimming a few hours after hatching. They are carefully tended for several months; and in some species, they may ride about on their mother’s back.
Due to their large size, swans have few natural predators in the wild. Swans’ main predator is the human who hunts them for their meat and feathers. Other predators are Wolves, Raccoons and Foxes which prey on the Swan itself and also its eggs. Habitat loss and water pollution are also a major reason as why the swan populations are declining.
Swans are kept globally now for ornamental and breed preservation purposes. These magnificent birds are often a symbol of love or fidelity because of their long-lasting, apparently monogamous relationships, and are culturally glorified in many countries around the world.