Facts about the animal kingdom

Different Types of Swans

Nick A. Romero
By Nick A. Romero, Biologist and environmental educator. Updated: July 24, 2024
Different Types of Swans

The diversity of birds is incredibly vast, so it is interesting to wonder why some stand out in the public imagination. The swan is a bird which has come to have great significance for many cultures, its white plumage and graceful appearance making it a common wonder. However, many of us might not even know there are different types of swan. Within these different swan breeds there is also diversity, but all birds considered swans are part of the family Anatidae.

At AnimalWised, we discuss the different types of swans by looking at the characteristics and behaviors of different swan breeds.

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  1. Characteristics of swans
  2. Different types of swans
  3. Habitats of swans
  4. What do swans eat?
  5. How do swans reproduce?
  6. Conservation status of swans

Characteristics of swans

Although there are different swan breeds, there are some characteristics which they all share. They are all striking birds which are part of the family Anatidae, a family of water birds which also contains geese and ducks. Swans make up the genus Cygnus. They can be distinguished by:

  • Size: they reach weights of between approximately 6 and 15 kg (13-33 lbs). In terms of their dimensions, an adult swan can achieve a wingspan of about 3 meters. There is no sexual dimorphism, but males usually measure larger than females when filly developed.
  • Neck: their long neck is another distinctive feature common to all swan types. The neck is the longest among the Anatidae family.
  • Color: depending on the species, swans can be white, black or a combination of these two colors. In some cases they are born with other colors, such as light gray or brown, but as they acquire one of the aforementioned colors as they grow.
  • Beak: they have strong and robust beaks. Like their plumage, at birth the coloration may be different from that of the adult. In all cases it will finally be orange, black or a combination of the two, depending on the species.
  • Legs: being aquatic animals, they have webbed feet. The membrane between their digits helps to paddle water to facilitate swimming. Some species walk on land, although their movement is more limited than when on water.
  • Song: there are species more vocal than others, but the songs of the swans are usually produced as whistles, snorts or grunts.

The physical features and characteristics of swans are one way to differentiate between other members of the Anatidae family. Read our related article to learn the other differences between swans, geese and ducks.

Different Types of Swans - Characteristics of swans

Different types of swans

The following are the different types of swan which can be found, grouped by species. These are the following extand breeds of swans:

  • Mute swan (Cygnus olor): large and white in color, it differs from others of the same coloration because the beak, although it is orange, has a black protrusion. The base and the tip of the beak are also black.
  • Black swan (Cygnus atratus): although they can be gray or brown when they are young, their plumage turns black when they are adults and they have white feathers on their wings. They are large in size with an arched neck.
  • Black-necked swan (Cygnus melancoryphus): the smallest of the Cygnus genus, they have a white body with a black neck and head. The bluish gray-bill has a red or scarlet bump at the base.
  • Whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus): the plumage on their body is white, but its beak is black and has a yellow base. The legs are also black. Their necks can darken in color at some times during the year.
  • Trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinador): the largest species to inhabit North America. Initially they are grayish swans, but as they grow, they turn white. Similarly, initially their beaks have pink tones and a black base. The black spreads throughout the beak as they grow.
  • Tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus): this species of swan is large in size and usually white in color. They have a black beak and legs, with a yellow coloration that goes from eye to beak, sometimes teardrop-shaped. They are split into two separate sub-species known as Bewick's swan (Cygnus bewickii) and the whistling swan (C. columbianus).
Different Types of Swans - Different types of swans

Habitats of swans

We already know that swans are aquatic birds, but there are many different types of aquatic environments, not all of which are habitable for swans. Here we show you were each different type of swan breed typically lives:

  • Mute swans: they inhabit bodies of fresh water, which are generally shallow. They are native to the British Isles, both central and northern Europe and Asia. They tend to migrate to Africa, India, and Korea. It is common to find them in lagoons, marshes, reed beds and rivers with low currents. They always opt for clean, plant-filled waters. They can also develop in reservoirs or ornamental lakes.
  • Black swans: although they are native to Australia, they have also been introduced to New Zealand, Europe and North America. They can live in fresh or brackish waters of rivers and swamps, as well as lakes with vegetation. It is also possible to find them in flooded areas to search for food.
  • Black-necked swans: they are native to South America, inhabiting Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands. They live in shallow coastal areas, but also in lakes and internal freshwater bodies which have abundant vegetation.
  • Whooper swans: they are typical of Europe and Asia. They inhabit shallow freshwater or coastal areas, such as lakes, slow-flowing rivers, swamps and floodplains. It is also common for them to live on islands near the aforementioned continents.
  • Trumpeter swans: they are native to Canada, Alaska and to the northern United States in general. It is common to observe them on land, but always near bodies of fresh, salt or brackish water. They resist temperate and polar temperatures.
  • Tundra swans: they present a wide distribution, inhabiting America, Europe, Asia and Africa. They are migratory birds. They are associated with various types of freshwater, such as lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, rivers and grasslands.

What do swans eat?

The diet of swans varies according to species. They can obtain their food under water by submerging their long neck or feeding off vegetation on the ground. Not al swans are herbivores. Although it will depend on the species and habitat, they can also eat insects, fish and tadpoles, in addition to vegetation such as grasses and algae.

The black swan and tundra swan are herbivorous, while the whooper swans will also consume small animals in addition to their usually herbivorous diet. Trumpeter swans will eat small invertebrates when they are young, but grow to be almost exclusively herbivorous. The mute and black necked swans are both considered omnivorous animals.

Different Types of Swans - What do swans eat?

How do swans reproduce?

Swans tend to mate for life, unless one dies and the other is still of reproductive age. In these cases, they may mate with another individual. In this way, they are monogamous, with the exception of the mute swan, which can have several reproductive partners and even finally separate from one of them.

These birds have courtships prior to copulation which consist of wing and neck movements and the emission of vocalizations. The mating ritual will vary depending on species, but generally occur while on water. Swans often build nests on mounds in or near water. These are largest of the Anatidae family.

They commonly nest independently, but can form small or large nesting groups. In general, it is the female who incubates, but sometimes the male can collaborate in this task. Swan eggs are large and lay in batches of two to ten, depending on the species. The egg color is also different depending on the swan type, and can be greenish, cream or white. The birth of the swan occurs after an incubation period of 35 to 45 days.

Regarding the behavior of the chicks, there are variations between species. We highlight the following:

  • Mute swan: chicks leave the nest the day after hatching and the male usually takes the first one to hatch into the water. It is common for little ones to ride on their mother's back. At 60 days they start their flight and in the following reproductive season they are chased away from the group by their own parents to join other non-reproductive specimens for about two years.
  • Black swan: newborns are kept in the nest for about three weeks and fledge in about 5-6 months to begin flight. They remain in the family group for about nine months in total. They then join juvenile flocks for 2-3 years before breeding.
  • Black-necked swan: these chicks fledge at about ten weeks, but may remain with their parents for a little over a year. Although sexually mature at two years, they do not form mating bonds until they are three years old.
  • Whooper swan: at hatching the chicks are already feathered and stay in the nest for 2-3 days. Their plumage is fully development by about three months. At about six months they begin to fly. They are usually independent by one year, but do not breed until they are four.
  • Trumpeter swan: chicks enter the water the day after hatching. They fledge after three months and become independent after one year.
  • Tundra swan: these birds are born feathered, but do not fledge until after two months of age. They stay with their parents for about two years, developing closer bonds with the mother than father.
Different Types of Swans - How do swans reproduce?

Conservation status of swans

The conservation status of all species of swans is of low concern, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In fact, there are even species, such as the mute swan or the trumpeter, that are considered to be in population growth. The black swan and the black neck are considered stable. The rest of the species, such as the whooper swan and the tundra swan are considered unknown due to a wide range of distribution and large populations.

If you want to read similar articles to Different Types of Swans, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • BirdLife International (2021). IUCN Red List of Birds. Descargado de http://www.birdlife.org.
  • Myers, Espinosa, Parr, Jones, Hammond, & Dewey (2021). Genus Cygnus. The Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved from: https://animaldiversity.org/search/?q=Cygnus&feature=INFORMATION
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Different Types of Swans