Description: The absolute pinnacle of Waterfowl has to be the Mute Swan. It truly is a piece of history, with its rise to nobility being with the commencement of the 'Royal Swanherd'. This is where the sitting monarch deemed these feathered aristocrats property of the Crown! To steal an egg, or worse kill a bird, came with some medieval standard telling-off!
Only second in size to the Trumpeter Swan, these birds can reach almost 2 metres in length, with a wingspan greater than that. Certainly is impressive, given they're one of the heaviest flying birds.
Cobs (males) are larger in stature to Pens (females), and the Cobs have a large nodule at the base of their orange bill.
In terms of their behaviour, they're vastly territorial. Even a small dam or lake would only provide room for one pair. In the wild, they'll comfortably share their home with smaller Waterfowl; but Cobs can defend their area aggressively. Despite this, there are notable cases where Mute Swans will socialise with other pairs. A conclusion could be drawn that they were raised as cygnets in a social environment and become accustomed to sharing their waterway with other Swans.
Distribution: Unlike a great deal of the northern hemisphere species of Waterfowl, the Mute Swan isn't necessarily migratory. It does span a great deal through Europe, parts of Asia, and sometimes in areas of Africa. There are cases overseas, but they have likely been attributed to naturalisation of captive birds that have escaped or been released.
Breeding: The Mute Swan is generally a springtime breeder. One of their most notable, or slightly undesirable, traits is the aggression during breeding. What starts as a hiss can often end in striking of the wings and a couple of nasty bites. There is an old wive's tale that talks about a Mute Swan being able to break a grown man's leg with a crash of the wing. Thankfully this is still just a tale, but it does highlight the importance of managing these graceful beings correctly when in a captive environment.
Nesting: Like most Waterfowl, the Mute Swan builds nests out of vegetation. In this instance it's a large mound, mostly made up of reeds like bulrush. The pair will select an area that takes into account predation risk. Foxes are a menace on most continents, and Europe is no different. The preferred location will be a small island, or dense area on the side of the waterway.
Eggs: A maximum of ten eggs are laid, which are a light grey/brown colour. In just over five weeks the female will hatch out her cygnets, and then protect them over the next six months until they learn to fly. From a naturalistic perspective, the spring breeding is aimed at hatching the chicks when food is at its richest, but also to ensure the juveniles can fly before waterways freeze over.
Diet: Those long necks are there for a reason, and that's being able to reach under the water and pull out those wonderful aquatic plants. On top of that, Mute Swans are grazers. They've adapted, with advancement in modern Agriculture, to feed on certain crops. In Great Britain they favour rapeseed plantations (cultivated for it's high-quality oil), which is a member of the brassica family like broccoli and brussel sprouts. These plants often attract a variety of Wildfowl, so it demonstrates that they're nutritious and beneficial for the health of the birds.
In captivity a quality pelleted diet with a good supply of fresh produce (particularly nutritious greens such as kale) is vital. Fresh water for drinking, and a waterway that allows for plenty of movement is advisable.
General: These birds aren't widely available in Australian Aviculture, but some notable advances in numbers have surfaced. There are active Members of The Pheasant and Waterfowl Society of Australia who have worked tirelessly on Mute Swans and their success in captivity. They are certainly a more expensive species, but rightly so. They're history, complexity to keep, and sheer beauty makes them worth every cent!