A popular symbol of grace and love, swans are one of the most elegant waterfowl on the planet. Known for long-lasting bonds and protectiveness, it’s no wonder swans earn so much praise.
In fact, there are a total of 8 swan species across the world. From the mute swan down to the Coscoroba, swans have many subtle differences if one were to look harder.
That said, identifying each species only takes a good read on some extensive know-how. And wouldn’t you know it? We’ve got everything from facts to FAQs listed down right here. But first…
What are Swans?
While similar to other waterfowl, swans have longer necks and larger bodies. However, their shorter legs give them a not-so-graceful gait on land.
In flight, their necks straighten as they glide with slow wingbeats. But flying isn’t all they’re good at. Swans are impressive swimmers and are also known to be quite smart, enough to remember you when you’re nice to them!
With size being the only way to tell them apart, the female swan is a pen, and the larger male swan is a cob. Baby swans are called cygnets. Depending on the species, they are born covered in a fluffy coat of gray, brown, or white.
Swans are in the family Anatidae, along with waterfowls such as ducks and geese.
Waterfowl under the family Anatidae are known for their ability to swim, fly, and float on water. Soft bills, webbed feet, and sturdy wings are also features shared within the family.
Swans and true geese share a subfamily called Anserinae, but swans alone make up the genus Cygnus. All except for the Coscoroba swan, which makes up the genus Coscoroba.
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The Complete List of Swan Types
In the section below, you’ll find all you need to know about each type of swan. We’ll discuss how each species differs in appearance, location, behavior, and more.
And while some sources cite only 7 swans in existence, we’ve included the Coscoroba swan in our list. Curious as to why? Read on!
1. Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)
When people talk about swans, mute swans come to mind. This species is a popular symbol of all things pure and romantic. That’s why you often find them on Valentine’s Day gifts, wedding cake toppers, and popular dating spots.
Mute swans have pure white feathers all around their body. Their bills are bright orange with a black base, and a black fleshy bump on top called a knob. Knobs are larger in cobs, especially during mating season.
An adult mute swan has an average length of 4.7-5.2 ft (1.4-1.6 m). Male swans usually weigh around 24.3-26.5 lbs (11-12 kg), while females weigh 18.7-19.8 lbs (8.5-9 kg).
From Europe, mute swans were brought into North America in the 1800s as park ornaments. Today, they’re known to be an invasive species in North America.
Mute swans are nonmigratory birds and do not travel far if needed. During winter, they fly in large groups to nearby places with open water.
They prefer shallow water, such as low-current rivers, marshes, and estuaries or lagoons. But as long as the water’s clean and full of plants, mute swans can adapt to just about any body of water.
Mute swans have an average clutch size of 2-5 eggs. When laid, these eggs are blue-green in color, then change into a chalky white. Once hatched, cygnets can be born with gray or white down.
2. Black-Necked Swan (Cygnus melancoryphus)
As you can tell, the black-necked swan is most recognizable for its black neck and white body plumage. Other noticeable features are the bright red knob atop its bill and the white stripe behind its eye.
They have a length of 3.3-3.9 ft (1-1.2 m) and can weigh between 7.7-14.8 lbs (3.5-6.7 kg). Though its wings are short, measuring up to 3.4-4.1 ft (1-1.2 m) in length, this doesn’t stop them from being speedy flyers.
They’re known as the largest native waterfowl in South America. As residents of the south, you can find them anywhere between Tierra del Fuego and Paraguay.
In fact, black-necked swans are the only swans to inhabit the Neotropical region. During the colder climates between June and August, they migrate to Brazil and Peru.
They live in freshwater and saltwater habitats, like shallow coasts and inland lakes.
This species is highly social with its kind, at least outside of breeding season. But try not to frighten them when you find one up close, as they’re generally cautious of humans.
On average, a pen can lay 3-7 cream-white eggs. Cygnets are born with a muted gray down and a dark gray bill, almost identical to other species of cygnets.
3. Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)
The whooper swan is similar in appearance, behavior, and location to the Bewick’s swan. Known as the common swan and the national bird of Finland, their names are pronounced as “hooper.”
Often mistaken for other swans, you can identify the whooper swan for its loud “whooping” call. And unlike other swans, the whooper swan usually keeps its neck straight.
These birds have wholly white plumage with black bills and a yellow base. Like fingerprints, the partial yellow pattern is unique to each whooper swan.
The average whooper swan has a length of 4.5-5.2 ft (1.4-1.6 m) and weighs 19.8-24.3 lbs (9-11 kg).
Whooper swans live in northern Eurasia and nearby islands. These are located south of Bewick’s swan territories.
Well adapted to the cold climate, these swans breed in tundra and taiga biomes. Like most swans, they prefer shallow waters such as plant-filled marshes and lakes.
With such a wide reach across continents, the swan population has five groups. These are:
- The Icelandic group
- The East Mediterranean group
- The East Asian group
- The Northwest Continental European group
- The West & Central Siberia/Caspian group
4. Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)
A sister species of the Bewick’s swan, the tundra swan is known as the whistling swan. Their unique, high-pitch calls can often sound like hooting.
Like most swans, the tundra swan also has a full white body. One distinction is its bill, mostly black, save for the yellow strip under its eye, shaped like a teardrop.
This species ranges from 3.9-4.9 ft (1.2-1.5 m) in length and can weigh between 7.9-20 lbs (3.6-9.1 kg).
Tundra swans inhabit continents such as North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.
North American tundra swans are a migratory species divided into two populations. In summer, the western population stays on the coast southwest of Alaska. They usually winter up north near the Arctic Circle.
The eastern population spends summers in the Pacific Ocean. They then migrate toward North America’s Great Lakes region. Come winter, you’ll find them between Maryland and Florida near fields and wetlands.
Female tundra swans can lay 3-7 cream-colored eggs and lay more in warmer temperatures. Unlike other species, baby tundra swans have lighter beaks and pink legs.
5. Bewick’s Swan (Cygnus columbianus bewickii)
The Bewick’s swan is named after Thomas Bewick, who specialized in drawing birds and animals.
Fully white like the rest of the swan species, the Bewick’s swan’s bill is very similar to the whooper swan. But if you look closely, Bewick’s swans have more black than yellow on their bill than the whooper swan.
As relatively small swans, they have a length of 3.9-4.3 ft (1.2-1.3 m) and an average weight of 13.2 lbs (6 kg).
They’re considered a subspecies of the Tundra swan, mainly residing in Eurasia. During migratory seasons, they travel several thousand miles from Russia to Western Europe.
Found living in open water, the Bewick’s swan prefers marshlands and lakes like the whooper swan. They can also be found in agricultural fields like tundra swans.
Also, like the tundra swan, the pens can lay 2-7 eggs of the same color. Cygnets have light gray downs and pinkish-gray feet and bills.
6. Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)
As the largest native swan of North America, these swans are much bigger than most species. As the name suggests, their calls sound like very loud honks. If anyone were to annoy an entire group of trumpeter swans, you’d be sure to know how they feel.
Before they can fly, this heavy species needs a runway on open water, measuring at least 328 ft (100 m) long. And with a length of 4.5-5.2 ft (1.4-1.6 m) and a weight of 17-28 lbs (7.7-12.7 kg), it’s no wonder they’d have to go through all that!
Trumpeter swans have entirely black bills, white bodies, and a slight bit of red or orange lining the edge.
In North American wetlands, you can find them in Alaska, Canada, and northwest of the US. In winter, they fly south to inland and coastal waters.
The trumpeter swan has a particular way of warming up its eggs. Unlike other species, they opt to cover them with their large webbed feet instead.
7. Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)
Despite what most people think, black swans aren’t the rarest swans to exist. Black swans were once considered non-existent before European pioneers reached Australia. But in fact, they have a stable population ranging between 100,000 to 1,000,000 swans!
Although plenty exists, they are in no way ordinary. They are Western Australia’s official bird, portrayed on their flag and coat of arms.
They have black plumage, white wingtips, orange-red bills, and striking red eyes. These wingtips are more visible when in flight.
They measure a length of 3.6-4.6 ft (1.1-1.4 m) and a weight of 8.2-19.8 lbs (3.7-9 kg).
Black swans are found throughout southern Australia’s wetlands all year round. When the water dries out, these birds can be seen swimming to wherever they can find water.
Breeding seasons start from February to September, laying clutch sizes of up to 10 eggs. Despite their dark plumage in adulthood, cygnets are identical to other species.
8. Coscoroba Swan (Coscoroba coscoroba)
Coscoroba swans are a special exception in the swan species. Since they are not true swans, these waterfowls appear in separate genera of their own.
The Coscoroba Swan has a bright ducklike bill and a full white plumage. Still, this species has the signature long neck and plumage of swans, which is why they’re categorized as one.
They’re considered the common ancestor of swans and true geese. However, this is still a subject of debate among experts.
The Coscoroba Swan is easily the smallest of all the swan types. They measure 3-3.6 ft (0.9-1.1 m) in length and 9.2 lbs (4.2 kg).
Coscoroba swans are endemic to South America. They’re found in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and the Falkland Islands. They prefer to swim and forage for food in bodies of fresh water.
Cygnets of this species are also physically different. Unlike normal baby swans, the cygnets are dirty brown with black patterns on their faces, much like a mask.
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Swans can generally live for up to 20 to 30 years in the wild. This may vary among the species, however.
For example, tundra and mute swans have an average lifespan of 19 to 20 years. Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australian black swans can live for as long as 40 years.
For the first 5 to 12 months, cygnets stay with their mother but can leave as soon as 4 months, when they learn to fly.
After a year, cygnets become juvenile swans with grayish feathers. They stay in flocks until they’re 4 years old and mature enough to finally be considered adults.
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Swans are monogamous animals, meaning they mate for life. Although they may find new mates if their mate dies, they generally stay with the same partner yearly.
In the second year of their lives, swans create a lifelong bond with those of the opposite sex. They provide each other food, shelter, and better survivability for years to come.
At 4 to 5 years old, adult swans begin mating and leave with their chosen mate to create their own nest.
Courtship rituals commonly begin in spring and differ between swan species. In these rituals, the swans perform movements similar to a dance. This can include bowing, nodding, or dipping their heads underwater.
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How do swans contribute to the ecosystem?
Non-invasive swans play an important role in aquatic environments. When swans pull up food, they help smaller waterfowls reach plants they can’t normally reach.
Mute swans, on the other hand, can be quite destructive to both plants and animals alike. This is due to their aggressiveness, large numbers, and gluttonous habits.
Do gray swans exist?
If you mean the younger swans, yes! But so far, none of the swan species have turned gray in adulthood.
Gray swans as an idiom do exist, however. It refers to rare events that can be predictable but often ignored.
What should you not feed swans?
Processed food is a big no-no when it comes to swan diets. Though they can eat fresh bread, leafy greens, and grains, you can’t feed them pastries and sugary food. This might cause them to have nutritional imbalances and digestive blockages.
Why is it called a mute swan?
Though they aren’t truly mute, they earned their name from being less vocal than other species of swans. Their calls are hoarse and muffled, but they can hiss and snort when disturbed, so watch out!
What is a group of swans called?
Interestingly, they have different names depending on whether they’re in flight.
When in flight, a group of swans is called a wedge due to their flying formation. But on the ground, a group of swans is a bank.
Why do swans make a heart with their necks?
Swans maintain a lot of eye contact during courtship. This gesture is a sign of showing their devotion to one another. That’s why most of their dances involve them looking at each other from the side.
In these dances, swans form a heart shape as they touch heads from time to time.