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

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Cygne ŕ cou noir (French)
Cygne ŕ col noir (French)
Schwarzhalsschwan (German)
Cisne cuellinegro (Spanish)
Cisne de cuello negro (Spanish)
Sthenelides melanocorypha

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, B3, B4, B8, B9, B19, B25, B26.

Aviculture references:
B7, B10.26.w2, B29, B30, B31, B40, B94, B95, B96, B97, B108, B128.w4,
D1, D8

Other References

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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:

  • Black-necked swans are easy to manage, but territorial and aggressive, particularly in the breeding season and especially to other swans and to the similarly-marked Tadorna tadorna - Common shelduck; they generally leave other ducks and geese alone. A separate enclosure is recommended.
  • These swans require an extensive area of water, preferably with ample underwater vegetation for feeding. They are somewhat cold-sensitive and prone to frost-bitten feet; a winter pen which is draught-proof and has thick straw on the ground is suggested, and a shelter may be required in winter in colder climates. They may be fed grain and waterfowl pellets, plus fresh plant material year-round.
  • Black-necked swans breed fairly readily; they are bred regularly in some collections. They build a large mound of vegetation and a nest-foundation of twigs and reeds may be pre-build on an island or the shore to encourage breeding. Eggs may be laid as early as February, even in cold (near-freezing) conditions, but they are usually laid early March to end of May. The cygnets are best parent-reared; prolonged fine dry weather and plentiful water-weed are best for rearing. The cygnets are often carried on their parents' backs. Turkey hens have been used as foster-mothers. These swans may double-brood.
  • Hybridisation with Cygnus olor - Mute swan has been reported (B31).

(J23.13.w7, B29, B30, B31, B40, B94, B96, B97, D1)

Aviornis UK Ringing Scheme recommended average closed ring size: T 20.0mm (D8).

Management Techniques

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 45-55 inches, 115-140cm (B3); 102-124cm (B1)
Adult weight General 3.5-6.7kg (B1)
Male 4.5-6.7kg, average 5.4kg (B3); mean 11.9 lbs. (B8)
Female 3.5-4.4kg, average 4.0kg (B3); mean 8.8 lbs. (B8)
Newly-hatched weight 150g
Growth rate 19.3 times hatching weight at 100 days.

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Adult Bill Male Blue-grey with paler tip. Large red fleshy knob behind bill.
Variations (If present) Bill knob smaller in female, largest in breeding male.
Eyes (Iris) Male Dark brown.
Variations(If present) --
Juvenile Bill Grey with reddish base but no knob.
Eyes (Iris) Brown.

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Adult Male Pink.
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Grey.

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Adult Male Head and neck black, with a thin white horizontal eye line.

Body and wings white.

Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Variable brownish-grey feathers in plumage.

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

General: Upperparts silver grey, underparts white.
Bill: dark blue-grey
Feet: dark blue-grey

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Early spring (July/August in Southern Hemisphere). Frequently start to lay in February in Britain (B9).
No. of Clutches --

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Nest placement and structure

Nest preferentially on small islets, in reedbeds or partly floating, large mound of vegetation, smaller and less well built than most swan nests.

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average 5 (B8)
Range 4-8 (B1); 4-6 (B8)
Egg Description Cream. Size: 105 x 65mm, weight: 247g (B3)

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About 36 days (B1, B8)

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About 100 days (B1, B8)

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Sexual Maturity

Males Breed at two years old in captivity, probably usually four, sometimes three in wild.
Females Breed at two years old in captivity, probably usually four, sometimes three in wild.

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Feeding Behaviour

Adults Head-dip and upend to reach submerged vegetation.
Newly-hatched Use vegetation brought up to the surface by the parents.

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Parental Behaviour

Nest-building By both sexes.
Incubation Female incubates and male guards the nest.
Newly-hatched Both tend the young, which frequently ride on the back of both parents but particularly the male.


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Social Behaviour

Intra-specific Generally gregarious, but highly territorial in the breeding season.
Inter-specific Males will attack intruders in the breeding season - other waterfowl and non-waterfowl.

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Sexual Behaviour

Strong, permanent pair bonds.

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Predation in Wild

Kelp gulls (eggs), skuas (cygnets) ( B8).

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Activity Patterns

Rarely seen on land except on the nest.
Circadian --

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Natural Diet


Basically vegetarian: stonewarts (Chara spp.), pondweeds, algae, probably some aquatic invertebrates and fish spawn.

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Similar to adults.

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal South America, from central Chile and Paraguay south to Tierra del Fuego and Falkland Islands. In winter as far north as the Tropic of Capricorn (south-east Brazil).

Southern (higher latitude) birds move north (to lower latitudes) for winter. Populations of Falkland Islands and of northern sites are more sedentary.

Occasional and Accidental

Vagrants reach the Juan Fernández Islands (500 miles west of Chile) and have been recorded on the Antarctic Peninsula (600 miles south of Cape Horn) and on King George Island.



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Freshwater marshes, grassy swamps, shallow lakes, brackish lagoons, sheltered coasts.

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Intraspecific variation


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Conservation Status

Wild Population -

Local declines but not globally threatened (B1, B8).

CITES listing CITES II (B1).
Red-data book listing --
Threats Drainage of preferred marshy habitats for pasture (B1, B8).

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Captive Populations

Popular in collections (B8).

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