A family of mute swans have been raised on Canada Water this year. Originally six in number, the young – known as cygnets – have now reduced to four but they all seem to be flourishing. The photos below are of ‘our’ swans all taken between late May and early July 2014

The mute swan is a very large white waterbird native to the UK. It has a long S-shaped neck, and an orange bill with black at the base of it. This swan is one of the heaviest flying birds and flies with its neck extended with regular slow wingbeats. The population in the UK has increased recently, perhaps due to better protection of this species. Adults of this large swan typically range from 140 to 160 cm (55 to 63 in) long. Males – known as cobs – are larger than females – known as pens – and have a larger knob on their bill. A large cob can weight more than 15kg (33lbs) at maturity. 

Nesting and feeding

Mute swans nest on large mounds that they build with waterside vegetation in shallow water on islands in the middle or at the very edge of a lake. They are monogamous and often reuse the same nest each year, restoring or rebuilding it as needed. Male and female swans share the care of the nest, and once the cygnets are fledged it is not uncommon to see whole families looking for food. Mute swan pens lay an average of four eggs, and she broods for 36 days. The cygnets do not reach the ability to fly until 120-150 days. Swans feed on a wide range of vegetation, both submerged aquatic plants which they reach with their long necks, and by grazing on land. 

Territory and defence

Mute swans are usually strongly territorial with just a single pair on smaller lakes like Canada Water. But they can form large flocks particularly where food is plentiful and amongst mostly non-breeding birds. Mute swans can be very aggressive in defence of their nests. Most defensive attacks from a mute swan begin with a loud hiss and, if this is not sufficient to drive off the predator, are followed by a physical attack. Swans attack by smashing at their enemy with bony spurs in the wings, accompanied by biting with their large bill. 

Find more in Collins Bird Guide 2nd edition

With thanks to Wendy Nowak for some excellent photos of the swans on their nest.
Mute swan mum (pen) incubating her eggs on the nest at Canada Water  May 2014Cygnets on the nest at Canada Water  May 2014Cygnets with their mum (pen) on the nest at Canada Water  May 2014Proud Mute Swan dad (cob) with five strong cygnets on the nest at Canada Water  June 2014Swans on Canada Water  June 2014Mute swan on nestMute swans with cygnets on water1515593711b0e94ff61b4041d94a99db0.jpg