What is a swan?

Swans are closely related to ducks and geese.

Swans are birds of the genus Cygnus, in the family Anatidae, which makes them close relatives of ducks and geese. These waterfowl originated in the Old World and have since spread to many regions of the globe, flocking around lakes, rivers and streams. Their distinctive appearance is perceived as quite attractive by many people, giving birds a special place in folklore.

Black swans, native to Australia and New Zealand, are a mostly black swan species and can reach a height of 56 inches when fully grown.

These birds have muscular, heavy bodies, large webbed feet, and long, slender necks. They are among the largest and heaviest of all waterfowl, and their color ranges from pure white to black. While many people associate swans with the color white, those in the Southern Hemisphere tend to be more brown or mottled, although they share the graceful movement and familiar appearance of their Northern Hemisphere cousins.

The young of the black swan species, which we are native to Australia, resemble those of other swan species.

Swans are famous for mating for life, although “divorces” sometimes occur, and they raise broods of three to eight young, known as cygnets, until they become adults. Males are known as spikes, while females are called pens. The history of swans and man is quite old, as they were domesticated as ornamental and companion birds for centuries in Europe and Asia. In some regions, they were also eaten, with some cultures reserving the meat only for consumption by royalty.

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The birds feed on aquatic plants, which churn up from the bottom of shallow waterways. This can turn them into harmful pests as they substantially disturb waterways in search of food. In areas where the swan is not native, imported birds have been known to displace local species, destroying habitat, muddying water and scaring other birds with their large size and ferocity.

Although they appear quite graceful and peaceful from a distance, birds can be quite ferocious. They are sometimes used as guard animals, like their goose cousins, and are especially aggressive towards nests and chicks. As swans are big and strong, they can handle some serious bruising with their heavy wings. The best thing to do when attacked by one is to move away from the area, in hopes of moving away from the territory the bird is defending.

Some well-known species include black swans, mute swans, whistling swans, trumpeter swans, and wild swans. As people might guess from some of these colorful common names, some birds make very distinctive and unusual sounds.

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