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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

Cisne negro (Spanish)
Cygne noir (French)
Schwarzschwan (German)
Trauerschwan (German)
Chenopis atratus

Names for newly-hatched

Cygnet, downy.

Names for non-breeding males or other colour-phases

Leucistic (pale).

Male swan often called "Cob".

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Species Author

Debra Bourne

Major References

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

Aviculture references:
B7, B10.26.w2, B29, B30, B31, B40, B94, B95, B96, B97, B108, B128.w4, B139
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 92F 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 swans are generally robust and easily maintained in captivity. They should have access to a good area of water with gently-sloping banks, and good grazing land. Ice-free water should be available in winter, with an area of straw provided on shore if necessary. They may be fed grain and waterfowl pellets, plus fresh green food year-round, and bread.
  • In general they should be kept apart from other swans, although they may share a lake with e.g. a pair of Cygnus olor - Mute swan if it is sufficiently large to allow two breeding territories which do not overlap. Young birds can be used to establish a colony, but adult pairs should not be mixed. They tend to be less aggressive towards geese and ducks than some of the other swans, but may be particularly aggressive to dark-coloured geese, and can be very aggressive while breeding - may even kill ducks intruding near the nest. They may also be aggressive to people. They can be kept in a mixed collection if there is sufficient water area, grazing area and ample cover. If kept purely for display, group of females is best, as males are likely to fight with one another.
  • Black swans are easy to breed, laying on a large pile of vegetation. They may breed in any month and sometimes breed in winter in the northern hemisphere. They may double-brood. Cygnets may remain on the nest for 36 hours. Juveniles will be rejected if double-brooding occurs.
  • Cygnets are easy to rear, although care should be taken to avoid imprinting and imprinted males can be particularly aggressive once adult. Plenty of green food should be provided and plenty of exercise to reduce the risk of over-rapid growth and associated problems (see: Angel Wing, Perosis).
  • Hybrids have been reported with Cygnus olor - Mute swan (hybrids large, mottled grey and white), Cygnus columbianus - Tundra swan, Cygnus cygnus - Whooper swan, Cygnus buccinator - Trumpeter swan, Anser anser - Greylag goose, Branta canadensis - Canada goose.

(J23.13.w7, B29, B30, B31, B95, B94, B96, B97, B139, D1).

Management Techniques

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External Appearance (Morphology)

Measurement & Weight

Length 45-55", 115-140cm (B3); 110-140cm (B1)
Adult weight General 3.7-8.75kg (B1)
Male 4.6-8.75kg average 6.27kg (B3); mean 13.8 lbs. (B8)
Female 3.7-7.2kg average 5.1kg (B3); mean 11.3 lbs. (B8)
Newly-hatched weight 170g (B9.5)
Growth rate 26.5 times hatching weight at 180 days (B9.5)

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Adult Bill Male Red with white stripe across bill near nail.
Variations (If present) --
Eyes (Iris) Male Red. Sometimes pink or white.
Variations(If present) --
Juvenile Bill Dark grey with pale nail.
Eyes (Iris) Brown.

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Adult Male Black
Variations (If present) --
Juvenile Dark grey

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Adult Male Head, neack, body and tail: Black.

Wing: mainly black. Primaries and outer secondaries (flight feathers) white, inner secondaries white tipped. Inner wing feathers (tertials), which are black, have a pronounced undulating structure.

Variations (If present) Light brown and fawn in leucistic colour phase, paler in adults than in juveniles. Silver, white, pied and reverse pied mutations have also been described (B139).
Juvenile Grey-brownish. Leucistic colour phase light brown and fawn.

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Newly-hatched Characteristics

General: Upperparts light grey (white in leucistic); underparts white.
Bill: Nearly black with pale tip; (pink in leucistic).
Feet: Dark grey with brown tinge; (pink in leucistic).

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Reproductive Season

Time of year Varies depending on geographic location, usually timed to coincide with highest water levels.

January to April and August to October reported most common in Britain (B9.5).

No. of Clutches May re-clutch if eggs or young cygnets lost.

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Nest placement and structure

Large mound of vegetation, floating or on the ground. A little down lining.

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Egg clutches

No. of Eggs Average 5-6 (B1);
Range 4-8 (B8); 1-14 (B1). More than eight usually indicates two swans laying.
Egg Description Pale green or whitish-green (B3, B8). Size: 115 x 65mm, weight: 300g (B3).

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35-48 (usually 36-40) days (B1); average 36-40.5 days (B8).

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150-170 days, less if very good food supply (B1); 90-165 days (B8).

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Sexual Maturity

Males 18-36 months.
Females 18-36 months.

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Feeding Behaviour

Adults Dabbles on surface, upends. Grazes pasture or flooded fields.
Newly-hatched Make use of food brought to surface by parents while feeding.

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Parental Behaviour

Nest-building Both build the nest.
Incubation Both sexes incubate, usually the female at night.
Newly-hatched Both parents tend the cygnets. Carry cygnets on back, but less often than the Mute swan (Cygnus olor - Mute swan); female carries more frequently than male.


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Social Behaviour

Intra-specific Highly gregarious. Nest in colonies, often seen in thousands on favoured waters.
Inter-specific In captivity noted to be most aggressive to dark coloured geese when breeding.

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Sexual Behaviour

Generally permanent pair bonds but sometimes form trios (male and two females) and cobs are more promiscuous than in the other swans.

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Predation in Wild


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Activity Patterns

Circadian Very active at dusk and also on moonlit nights.

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Natural Diet


Basically vegetarian, mainly eating submerged aquatic plants, algae and pondweeds.

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Vegetarian, eating same plants as adults, and frequently seeds.

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Range and Habitat

Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Normal Australia, Tasmania.

Sedentary if suitable habitat, but move to make use of temporary waters and also from usual waters if they dry up in droughts. Concentrate on coast, on sheltered lagoons and bays, in dry spells. Non-breeding birds move to suitable safe areas ready for moulting.

Occasional and Accidental

Vagrant to New Guinea.


Introduced into New Zealand, now well established. Small feral population from escaped birds in Britain. Have also nested in wild in USA, Canada, Hawaii, Japan (in parks) and in several countries in Europe, but without becoming established (B38).

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Large lakes and lagoons, preferring shallow, permanent, fresh or brackish water. Other waters including rivers in non-breeding season.

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Intraspecific variation


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Conservation Status

Wild Population -

Common, not threatened (B1, B8).

CITES listing --
Red-data book listing --
Threats --

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Captive Populations

Common in collections, easy to keep and breed (B8).

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