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1 Jan 2020

Creature feature: mute swan

Written by Ciaran Hatsell, Ranger, St Abb’s Head
A female mute swan and her cygnet swimming on a loch beside some green reeds.
A female mute swan and her cygnet
The mute swan is probably one of the most distinctive British birds, with its white plumage, long neck and orange beak.

A pair of mute swans breed on the Mire Loch, and can be seen throughout the year. These birds mate for life and are very territorial, defending ‘their patch’, mate and offspring.

The male, known as a cob, has a larger black knob on his beak and will look over the female (the pen) as she incubates her eggs (laying up to 7 in total). He will then cover them as she moves off to feed.

Once the cygnets have hatched, both parents will help with the raising of the young. The young hop on their parents’ backs for a swim around the waters, as they’re shown what it’s like to be a mute swan! This is also a handy strategy to protect them from predators, such as foxes.

The cygnets will have greyish feathers and a dull beak, but will grow to the size of the adults within 3 months. Once they reach 5 months, the parents will start to push the cygnets away, encouraging them to fly the nest!

A male mute swan in profile, showing the black knob on its orange beak.
A male mute swan, showing the knob on its beak.

The mute swan’s name comes from the fact that it’s less vocal than other swan species, such as the whooper swan that makes the distinctive ‘whooping’ call in flight. The mute swan is also the largest of the swan species in the UK, and in fact the second largest species of waterfowl in the world.

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