Cygnus Olor - Mute Swan | Babylon Village, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Artist's Description

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Subfamily: Anserinae
Tribe: Cygnini
Genus: Cygnus
Species: C. olor
Binomial name
Cygnus olor
(Gmelin, 1789)

The mute swan is less vocal than the noisy whooper and Bewick’s swans; they do, however, make a variety of grunting, hoarse whistling, and snorting noises, especially in communicating with their cygnets, and usually hiss at predators trying to enter their territory. The most familiar sound associated with mute swan is the vibrant throbbing of the wings in flight which is unique to the species, and can be heard from a range of 1 to 2 km (0.6 to 1 mi), indicating its value as a contact sound between birds in flight. Cygnets are especially vocal, and communicate through a variety of whistling and chirping sounds when content, as well as a harsh squawking noise when distressed or lost.

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. The wings of the swan are very powerful, anecdotally reported to exert enough force to break an adult man’s leg. Large waterfowl, such as Canada geese, (more likely out of competition than in response to potential predation) may also be aggressively driven off, and mute swans regularly attack people who enter their territory. The cob is also responsible for defending the cygnets while on the water, and will sometimes attack small watercraft, such as canoes, that it feels are a threat to its young. The cob will additionally try and chase the predator out of his family territory, and will keep animals such as foxes and raptors at bay. In New York (outside its native range), the most common predators of cygnets are common snapping turtles. Healthy adults are rarely predated, though canids such as coyotes, felids such as lynxes, and bears can pose a threat to infirm ones (healthy adults can usually swim away from danger unless defending nests) and there are a few cases of healthy adults falling prey to golden eagles.

The familiar pose with neck curved back and wings half raised, known as busking, is a threat display. Both feet are paddled in unison during this display, resulting in more jerky movement. Read more

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