Swans are waterbirds that are closely related to ducks and geese. These birds can gracefully move in both water and air. Their beautiful plumage and overall appearance have captured imaginations, featuring prominently in heralds and motifs throughout the ages.

Scientific Classification


Scientific Classification


The swan is an intelligent bird and a devoted one – forming a lifelong partnership with a mate and aggressively protecting their young.

Types of Swans
Types of Swans

List of the Common Types of Swan Species

There are six recognized species of swans, with the Tundra swans further being split into two distinct species, the Bewick’s swan  and the Whistling swan. The Coscoroba swan is distinctly related to the swan but not considered a true swan though. Several species of swans became extinct a long time ago, including the Giant Swan of New Zealand.


Physical Description and Appearance

Size: Length: 4-5 ft (1.4-1.5 m)

Weight: 25-35 pounds (11.3-15.9 kg)

Wingspan: 10 ft (3.1 m)

Body and Coloration: There is a patch of featherless skin present between the eyes and bill of the swan. The beaks also have serrated edges that look like teeth. Sexual dimorphism does exist, as the males are generally larger and even bulkier than females.

Plumage color varies from species to species, with the Northern hemisphere birds being completely white, while their Southern hemisphere counterparts are a blend of black and white.

The legs of most swans are usually dark blackish-gray. However, the black-necked swan indigenous to South America is an exception, with pink legs.

The black and black-necked swans have red and black patterned beaks, while the others have black bills with yellow patterns.

The males and females of the mute and black-necked swans have a fleshy lump resembling a knob on their bills close to their head.


Swans are distributed in various parts of the world, with 4-5 species found in the Northern Hemisphere, the Black Swan in Australasia, and the Black-necked swan in the southern parts of South America.

Swan Pictures

Where do they live

They prefer temperate climates and are very rarely found in the tropics. Swans live close to water bodies such as lakes, marshes, ponds, rivers, streams, and wetlands.

How long do they live

A swan lives for 12 years on average. Their lifespan varies from one species to another, the trumpeter swan living for over 20 years.

What do they eat

Primarily herbivorous, swans mostly eat algae, fruits, grass, leaves, roots, stems, and tubers. They will sometimes supplement their diet with insects and small aquatic animals like fish and amphibians. These birds are known to feed on both land and in water.

Swan Bird
Swan Images


  • All species of swans migrate in winter, though each one undergoes migration differently, either partially or wholly. For example, the black swans are nomadic and have no set migration pattern, while mute swans migrate partially, as per their requirements.
  • They are highly protective of their young, particularly the males, aggressively attacking anything they consider an impending danger to their nests, not leaving out humans.


Foxes and coyotes are primary threats to swans, though young and infirm specimens are easier to target. Eggs are an easy target for raccoons.

Swan Egg
Pictures of a Swan


  • Like other waterfowl, swans have webbed feet to help them swim.
  • Their elongated necks allow them to dip their bills into the water for feeding without the need for submerging themselves.
  • The bodies of these birds are streamlined for quick movement, both aquatically and aerially.
  • There is an oil-producing gland on their tails, which helps keep their feathers waterproof. They will wag their tails to spread this oil all over their bodies.

How do they reproduce

Swans are usually monogamous and mate for life, though pairs have been observed getting “divorced” for various reasons like nesting failure. These pairs bond throughout the year, with the male helping, constructing nests, and incubating the eggs. Nests are built close to the water on the ground, with swan pairs returning to the same site to nest if they could successfully raise their young there before.

Baby Swan
Swans Nest

Life Cycle

4-7 eggs are laid in a single clutch incubated for over a month. After hatching, the juvenile swans, or cygnets, will be cared for by both parents until they are 4-5 months old, sometimes riding on their backs. Cygnets reach sexual maturity at around 4-7 years of age.


According to the IUCN, all species of swans are currently listed as “Least Concern” or “LC”.

Swan – FAQs

1. Can swans fly?

Yes, swans are capable of flight. In fact, they are fast fliers reaching up to speeds of 60 mph.

2. What is a group of swans called?

A group of swans is referred to by several names, including a wedge when they are in flight and a bank on the ground. Other terms include a bevy, a game, a flight, and a herd.

3. What do swans represent?

The swan symbolizes traits usually associated with beauty, such as grace, love, loyalty, and trust.

4. Are swans geese?

No, the two are separate species, with swans larger than geese in size and wingspan.

5. Are swans dangerous?

While they will flap their wings and hiss at intruding humans, they are not a real threat. However, scratches and bites are not uncommon.

6. Where do swans sleep?

They can sleep both on land and on water.

Swan Teeth
Swan Flying

Interesting Facts

  • The swan has played an important role in human culture. The most notable works involving this bird are The Ugly Duckling and the Russian ballet Swan Lake.
  • Swans have featured in several myths, such as the Greek myth of Leda and the swan or the steed of the Hindu Goddess Saraswati being a swan.
  • There have been recent cases of swans getting infected and dying from bird flu.