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Mute Swan

Cygnus olor

Identifying Characteristics

  • 125-170 cm long
  • males grow to about 12 kg and females about 9 kg
  • white plummage
  • orange bill bordered with black
  • unique, large black knob atop the bill
  • juveniles have a dull greyish-black bill with white to gray plummage
This is a photograph of a Mute Swan in water. 4 images
This is a map of British Columbia showing the spread of invasive species.
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A graceful bird, but an aggressive alien species.

The Mute Swan is a well-loved favourite of birdwatchers, but it is also a threat to native species and habitats. Known as the Queen's Bird, this species has a voracious appetite and feasts on vegetation including underwater plants, which they reach with their long necks. The Mute Swan is one of the largest birds in the province. They are less vocal than other swans, though, despite their name, they do grunt, whistle and snort. If you get too close to a swan, especially during nesting, you may also hear hissing - a warning to stay away.

Impact on Communities and Native Species

Mute Swans are known to harass and kill native waterfowl, destroy wetland habitats by eating large quantities of aquatic vegetation, and consume fish and tadpoles. In sufficient numbers, their voracious eating habits can destroy food and habitat that native species depend on. While nesting, Mute Swans occupy a large territory which they assertively defend. They will drive off native waterfowl and wetland species, and will also become aggressive with humans.

Invasion History

The Mute Swan is a native of Eurasia and was introduced to the United States in the mid-1800s to adorn parks and large estates and to populate zoos. The birds escaped and established feral populations, in some cases numbering in the thousands. The Mute Swan was first introduced to Victoria city parks around 1889. Since then, the birds have established feral populations in southern Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, and recently birds have been sighted in the interior of the province. In Canada, all swan species are protected under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act. This includes the Mute Swan, one of the few alien species to be afforded this protection.