Home Newsletter Locations Diary





Swans are a very large heavy water bird and are closely related to geese and ducks. The are 7 species of Swan worldwide, those from the Northern hemisphere typically have white plumage, whereas those from the Southern hemisphere are mixed black and white.

Swan breeds include:

  • Mute Swan - native to Britain

  • Whooper Swan - migrates to the UK during winter months from their arctic breeding grounds

  • Bewick's Swan - migrates to the UK during winter months from their arctic breeding grounds

  • Trumpeter Swan

  • Whistling Swan

  • Black Swan - a breed of Australia and introduced into New Zealand

  • Black Necked Swan - from South America

The Mute Swan is native to Britain and is here all year round, other breeds you will find in the wild within the UK during the winter months are the Whooper Swan and the Bewick's Swan.   The other breads listed you will come across in some of the Wetland centres and other wildlife collections within the UK. For instance I have seen the Black Swan in the Wildfowl and Wetland Centre in Slimbridge Gloucestershire and the Black Necked Swan at Martin Mere in Lancashire.


They are very long-necked birds and telling the difference between the sexes on initial site is difficult as they look very similar. Out of water they have a waddling walk, however in water they are majestic. When they feed they up-end to browse on the bottom for their food.

A male swan is called a Cob and can weigh up to 15kg and have a wing span of 2.3m, the female is a Pen and is smaller, their offspring are called Cygnets. The life expectancy of a swan is around 10-12 years, although some mating pairs have been recorded as living for around 20 years. They can start breeding at 3-4 years of age and typically during their teenage years will live in flocks.

They usually mate for life although they have been known to "divorce" particularly following a nesting failure. Swans lay eggs and can have a clutch size of between 3 and 8. A female Mute Swan will typically have a clutch of 6 and takes 25 days to incubate and are usually born around May, and can usually fly at 4-5 months, around September time. They are devoted parents keeping a watchful eye on them at all times and allowing them to 'hitch a lift' on their backs as well as teaching them how to feed on the underwater plants which forms a major part of their diet.

Swan Upping

Within the UK there is an ancient ceremony associated with swans called 'Swan Upping', this dates back to the 12th century when in England ownership of all Mutes Swans was declared by the monarchy and it was a dish at banquets and feasts. Click Here for more details.

Popular Culture

Swans feature quite a lot in popular culture and the most well known of these is 'The Ugly Duckling' fable, which is centred around a duckling who is mistreated until it becomes clear that in fact he is a swan and not a duck after all. Others include:

  • Swans are often used as a symbol of love and fidelity because of their long lasting monogamous relationships.

  • Swan Maidens who are able to transform from human to swan and vice versa are a worldwide motif in folklore, a typical tale is of a swan who is temporarily robbed of her powers and forced to marry a human man.

  • The phrase swan song is believed to come from the myth that upon the death of an otherwise silent Mute Swan it would sing beautifully.

  • The Black Swan is the faunal emblem of Western Australia and features on the coat of arms of Canberra the Australian capital.

  • They feature in both Greek and Norse mythology.

  • The Irish Legend of Children of Lir is about a stepmother who transformed her children into swans for 900 years.

  • Swan Lake the Ballet by Tchaikovsky in 1875 represents the story of swan-maidens, which has a history back in Greek mythology.

The Bishops Palace, at Wells Cathedral, Wells in Somerset has Mute Swans within its moat.  For centuries they were trained to ring bells via strings attached to them to ask for food. In fact it is said two swans still do. Take a look at their Swan Watch to keep up to date with what the Swans are getting up to.

Locations for catching a glimpse of Swans in the UK

Throughout the UK our native Mute Swans    can be found on many of our rivers, gravel pits, canals and open water spaces. There are also various other locations including a Swannery and Swan and Rescue Sanctuaries where you can get to see them close up.

Over the years the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed has become home to the second largest mute swan colony in Britain. The swans are now such a familiar feature of the Tweed estuary that they have become a well-known tourist attraction, and at peak times almost 800 birds have been counted on the river. There are around 200 permanent residents (mainly non-breeding adults and juvenile birds) but the numbers increase in late summer and through the winter as swans from other areas arrive to undergo the annual moult or to take advantage of the rich feeding at the Tweed estuary.

Take a look at our Where to Photograph Swans list page for a list of places where you can see and photograph Swans.

See Also:


Where to Photograph Swans (Location List)

Mute Swan  

Bewick's Swan

Whooper Swan

Swan Upping - the ancient annual census of Mute Swans on the River Thames


By: Tracey Park Section: Key:
Page Ref: swan Topic: Wildlife  Last Updated: 08/2013

This page:

Link directly to this page, with text or the button on right.

Text linking: Swans  on Photographers Resource

Linking Instructions                            http://www.photographers-resource.co.uk/

Photographers Resource, all the information for the photographer