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< >  Cygnus cygnus - Whooper swan (Click photographs/illustrations: full picture & further details)
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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Cisne cantor (Spanish)
Cisne gritón (Spanish)
Cygne chanteur (French)
Cygne sauvage (French)
Singschwan (German)
Wilde Zwaan (Dutch)
Sängsvan (Swedish)
Olor cygnus
Cygnus cygnus cygnus
Cygnus musicus

Names for newly-hatched

Cygnet, downy.

Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases

Male swan often called "Cob".

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Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

B1, B2, B3, B4, B8, B9, B19, B25, B26, B27

Other references:

Aviculture references:
J23.13.w7, J23.13.w12,
B7, B10.26.w2, B29, B30, B40, B94, B95, B97, B108, B128.w4, B129,
D1, D8

(UK Contacts)

(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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TAXA Group (where information has been collated for an entire group on a modular basis)

Parent Group

Specific Needs Group referenced in Management Techniques

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Aviculture Information


General information:
  • Swans are generally aggressive and territorial, particularly while breeding, and each pair should be maintained in a separate pen, away from other swans, geese and large ducks, although the pen may be shared with small ducks, as these are usually ignored by most swan pairs. Fences adjoining other pens should be solid or screened with vegetation to avoid injury from swans trying to fight each other through wire fencing, and should be as tall as the swans themselves, to prevent fighting over the top of the fence.
  • Swans may be best kept on a large area of natural water containing aquatic vegetation, and the surrounding land. For a single pair, a pen of at least 400 square metres is suggested, of which half the area should be water and half grazing land. Banks should be at a shallow angle to allow easy entry to and exit from the water; this is particularly important if cygnets are to be parent reared. More than one pair may be kept in very large parks where each pair can establish a breeding territory. Swans appreciate water weed and grass, but other green foods such as lettuce and cabbage may be used as substitutes if necessary. They are relatively slow eaters and care should be taken in mixed enclosures that they get sufficient food. Natural food should be supplemented with extra green food, wheat and pellets; limited amounts of bread may also be given.
  • Good amounts of vegetation should be provided for nest building, with cover available for early-nesting species. Parent hatching and rearing is usual. Swans are able to defend their young against most predators, and their highly-aquatic lifestyle also makes cygnets less vulnerable. Unlimited green food should be available for the cygnets.
  • If hand-reared, cygnets should be kept in a brooder with a heat lamp (to give 92°F in the first week), with sufficient room for the birds to choose their own comfort zone. Access to water for a swim is appreciated; this may be in an appropriately sized bowl initially (e.g. while the brooder is cleaned out). Starter pellets, chopped green food and for the first few days chopped hard-boiled egg may be given, and grit should be available. If weather permits the cygnets may be kept outside in a pen with a pond by two to three weeks old. It is important to ensure unlimited green food is always available and that the cygnets do start feeding initially (see: Stimulating Feeding of Downies (Waterfowl)), as there is a risk of Starveout.

(B7, B10.26.w2, B29, B30, B40, B94, B95, B97, B108, B128.w4, D1).

Species-specific information:

  • Whooper swans are extremely aggressive, particularly in the nesting and rearing season; they require a separate enclosure. A reasonable water area and grassland for grazing should be provided, plus additional food.
  • These swans are generally easy to breed. They lay on a large pile of vegetation (plenty of nesting material should be provided), preferring a secluded waterside area shielded with reeds/bushes; they may also use a floating turf-covered raft, in which case nesting material provided on the water for building on the raft. Cygnets may be parent hatched and reared without difficulty in an area with plentiful grass. Cygnets spend most of their time on the water when not being brooded, and feed should be placed on or near the water.
  • Hybrids have been reported with Cygnus olor - Mute swan, Cygnus buccinator - Trumpeter swan, Cygnus columbianus - Tundra swan, Anser anser - Greylag goose.

(J23.13.w7, J23.13.w12, B29, B30, B40, B97, B129, D1)

Aviornis UK Ringing Scheme recommended average closed ring size: W 27.0mm (D8). ).

Individual Techniques linked in Wildpro

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 55-65 inches, 140-165cm (B1, B2, B3)
Adult weight General 7.5-12.7kg (B1)
Male 8.5-12.7kg, average 10.8kg (B3); mean 23.8 lbs. (B8)
Female 7.5-8.7kg, average 8.1kg (B3); mean 17.9 lbs. (B8)
Newly-hatched weight 210g (B9)
Growth rate --

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Adult Bill Male Tip black, base yellow extending forward to in front of nostrils.
Variations (If present) --
Eyes (Iris) Male Brown
Variations(If present) --
Juvenile Bill Bill blackish, base pinkish, gradually turns white then yellow.
Eyes (Iris) Brown.

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Adult Male Black.
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Fleshy grey, becoming black.

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Adult Male White.
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Greyish.

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

General: Upperparts silver-grey, underparts white.
Bill: Flesh-ping, with grey along the sides and at the tip.
Feet: Pale orange, later fleshy.

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Late April/May.
No. of Clutches One.

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Nest placement and structure

On islands in lakes, or drier patches in swamps. Substantial mound of plant material. Soft grass and a little down lining.

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average 4-5 (B1)
Range 3-7 (B1); 4-9 (B8)
Egg Description Creamy to yellow-tinged (B3, B8). Size: 113 x 73mm, weight: 330g (B3).

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31-42 days, average 35 days (B2, B8).

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78-96 days, mean 87 days (B1, B2, B8).

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Sexual Maturity

Males About four years old.
Females About four years old.

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Feeding Behaviour

Adults By head-dipping or upending in the water, also grazes on land.
Newly-hatched Make use of vegetation brought to the surface by their parents.

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Parental Behaviour

Nest-building By both sexes.
Incubation By female. When female feeding eggs are covered with down or the male sits. Both defend the nest.
Newly-hatched Both rear and defend the cygnets, female broods at night initially on land, sometimes returning to the nest.

Leave parents at the end of the first winter.

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Social Behaviour

Intra-specific Gregarious except when breeding. Territorial when nesting.
Inter-specific --

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Sexual Behaviour

Strong permanent pair bonds.

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Predation in Wild

Cygnets taken by eagles, gyrfalcons, Arctic foxes and pike.

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Activity Patterns

Roosts on open water near feeding areas.
Circadian --

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Natural Diet


Mostly aquatic vegetation, also grass. In winter also grain, potatoes, acorns.

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Insects important initially, later vegetation as the parents.

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal From Iceland and Scandinavia eastward to north-east Siberia. Main wintering populations: Iceland, Britain, Ireland (Icelandic pop.), west and central Europe, around Baltic, North, Black, Caspian, Aral seas, east to coastal china and Japan.

Movements: Mostly migratory although part of Icelandic population remains all year.

Occasional and Accidental

Spitsbergen, Bear Island, Jan Mayen Island, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Cyprus, Egypt, Spain, Algeria, Tunisia, USA, Pakistan.



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South of tundra in undisturbed wooded areas. Shallow lakes and pools, swampy areas, slow rivers, estuaries, sheltered coasts. Requires bottom vegetation in areas <1m deep for grazing. Agricultural land, low-level near coast in winter.

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Intraspecific variation


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Conservation Status

Wild Population -

Not globally threatened, numbers increasing slightly (B1, B8).

General Legislation
  • This species is listed on Schedule 1 - Part I (Birds protected by special penalties: Notes on the revised schedules state "Birds protected by special penalties at all times") of the LUK2 - Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 of the United Kingdom. (W5.Oct01)
CITES listing Listing not yet included.
Red-data book listing Listing not yet included.
Threats Habitat loss (wetland drainage) and hunting (B1, B8)

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Captive Populations

Well established in collections, more in Europe than in the USA (B8).

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