Animal stories: Swans
Swans are large white birds, generally considered the most beautiful and graceful, of the waterfowl. Male swans are called cobs and female swans are called pens. They have webbed feet to help them swim.
Trumpeter swans are the largest swans in the world. They look like a bird straight out of a fairy tale. They earned their name due to their distinctive “trumpet-like” sound, caused by a loop in their larynx. They are majestic birds with snowy white feathers. They have a long neck, a black bill subtly marked with salmon-pink along the mouth line and short black legs. They also have a thin orange-red line on the lower part of the bill. They can reach a length of 183 cm, a wingspan of almost 10 ft and a weight of 17.4 kg.
The Tundra swan weighs approximately 15 pounds, has a high whistling call, and migrates long distances between summer and winter ranges.
The major differences between the two species are their size, call, and migration. The Trumpeter swan is roughly twice the size of the Tundra swan; has a deep, sonorous call; and is either non-migratory or migrates relatively short distances.
The strong webbed feet of swans are used to dig into the pond or lake bottom for roots, and tubers. Swans then plunge their heads and necks underwater to eat what they have dug up. In deeper water, they tip up completely to snap off the leaves and stems of plants growing underwater. Heads and necks of swans are often stained a rusty colour from feeding in water containing iron.
Swans eat grasses as do cows — 10 adult swans will eat as much as one cow. Swans eat water plants by putting their beaks under the water. They also eat small animals like frogs and worms. These birds feed while swimming and their diet is almost entirely aquatic plants. They feed on stems, leaves and seeds of aquatic plants. In winter, they may also eat grasses and grains in fields.
Swans live on lakes, rivers and canals. Their habitat is large shallow ponds and wide slow rivers. Natural populations of these swans migrate to and from the Pacific coast flying in V-shaped flocks. Trumpeter Swans are found in wetland areas associated with rivers, lakes, ponds and marshes.
Swans build their nests on the ground from grass and water plants like reeds and bull rushes. The nest mound, which takes about two weeks to build, reaches a diameter of 15 feet and an average height of 18 inches. They build their nests, choosing locations close to the water, either on shore or small islands. The males gather nest material, uprooting marsh plants and brings them to the females for placement. The same nest site may be used for several years.
Female swans lay five to six chalky greenish-blue eggs in average. Mostly females incubate the eggs for five weeks until they hatch. Baby swans are called cygnets. They have soft grey feathers and grey beaks. Newly hatched cygnets feed mainly on aquatic insects and crustaceans. The young are able to swim within two days and usually are capable of feeding themselves after at most two weeks. As their wings get bigger the cygnets learn to fly. It takes the cygnets 14 weeks to learn to fly.