Swans are some of the most majestic birds you can find in the water. However, their numbers are actually quite limited as there are only a few species of them.
There are currently 7 species of swan in the world, including one that’s not considered true. One of the seven is often divided into 2 subspecies, which we’ll also go over in this article.
1. Whooper Swan
Scientific Name: Cygnus cygnus
Range: Europe, Central Asia
The whooper swan is a large swan consisting of a straight neck, a short tail, and a sloping beak distinctly different from that of the mute swan. Compared to the Tundra/Bewick swan, the whooper swan has a pointed yellow path at the base of the beak, as well as deeper-pitched calls. Juveniles tend to be darker compared to the juveniles of the Bewick’s swan.
Whooper swans will breed and build nests in the shrub-forest containing tundra and taiga zones in Eurasia. Other habitats include areas along the banks of freshwater pools, lakes, shallow rivers, marshes, swamps, and bogs. They prefer the colder northern regions in Europe.
The whooper swan is mainly herbivorous, feeding on aquatic plants and their roots, as well as grains, seeds, and nuts. Juveniles, and their parents, when feeding them, usually consume more fish and insects, as they need higher amounts of protein for growth.
2. Black Swan
Scientific Name: Cygnus atratus
Range: Australia, Introduced to Europe, East Asia, and New Zealand
The black swan is a large swan covered in black plumage and has a bright red beak and red eyes. Though its wings have white feathers, they’re only visible during flight as the wings are fanned out; in the water, these swans appear completely black.
Juveniles appear similar but are a more dark-gray color. They may appear similar to the Magpie Goose, which has a white belly and white underwings with black tips.
The black swan is found in inland waterways, rivers, sewage ponds, coastal lagoons, and inlets. They prefer shallow waters, such as lakes, ponds, and swamps, during the breeding season.
The black swan is mainly a herbivore, feeding on submerged aquatic and marshland vegetation and algae. However, they will also consume invertebrates on occasion, especially when feeding juveniles. They are known to graze pasture that is adjacent to the water as well.
3. Black-Necked Swan
Scientific Name: Cygnus melancoryphus
Range: South America
The black-necked swan is a swan with a black neck and an otherwise white body. It has a red beak, black eyes, and white bands that go over the eyes. Juveniles are born completely white but will soon develop a dusky coloration on the neck; they will look identical to adults within a month or two after hatching.
The black-necked swan is rather common in its natural habitat, but they’re sometimes restricted to lakes, slow-moving rivers, wetlands containing open water, estuaries, and inshore coastal waters. They inhabit both saltwater and freshwater habitats.
Black-necked swans are primarily herbivores that feed on aquatic plants and algae, which it gathers from just below the water’s surface. They may also consume a variety of grain, grasses, and crops when grazing on land. They’re also known to consume small aquatic invertebrates and fish eggs occasionally.
4. Mute Swan
Scientific Name: Cygnus olor
Range: Europe, Central Asia, Introduced to the United States
The mute swan is a large swan with white plumage, a long neck, a reddish-orange beak, and a black face. Adults have a black knob on the top of the base of the beak. Juveniles are a light brown color with a gray beak.
The mute swan is native to northern Europe and Asia; however, it has now been introduced to many other parts of the world, where they mainly inhabit ponds, lakes, and calm coastal waters, but can also be found in urban lakes and farm ponds. They tend to choose fresh, brackish (a mix of fresh and saltwater), or saltwater ponds to breed.
Mute swans feed mainly on aquatic vegetation, which they pluck from the riverbed using their long necks. They also graze grassy fields on land, where they can often survive for prolonged periods of time on short-cropped grass. They may sometimes take mollusks that cling to the vegetation, as well as smaller fish, amphibians, and worms.
5. Trumpeter Swan
Scientific Name: Cygnus buccinator
Range: North America
The trumpeter swan is a large white bird with a long neck and a completely black beak. Juveniles are a light gray-brown color with a slightly pink beak. Adult trumpeter swans are similar to the tundra swan. However, there’s no yellow present on the beak.
Also, the face of the trumpeter swan is rather broad where the eyes meet, and the border between the white face and the black beak is straight, whereas the border is curved on the tundra.
The trumpeter swan forages in the shallow vegetated waters of wetlands, where they can reach under the surface for plants. They breed in freshwater marshes and ponds and may winter on any open body of water as long as there’s a food source.
Similar to the previously discussed mute swan, the trumpeter swan also gets most of its food by dabbling in the shallow waters using its long neck to pick out vegetation. It may supplement its diet with a combination of small invertebrates, small fish, and fish eggs. During the winter, when there’s a decrease in live animals, the trumpeter swan will focus more on grasses, grains, and tuberous crops for their food.
6. Tundra Swan
Scientific Name: Cygnus columbianus
Range: North America, Northern, and Central Asia
The tundra swan is a relatively smaller white swan with a long neck that separates into two sub-species known as the “whistling” tundras and the “Bewick’s” tundras, found in North America and Eurasia, respectively.
The whistling tundras have a mainly black beak with a yellow spot near each of the eyes, while the Bewick’s tundras have a more equally divided black-and-yellow beak. The juveniles tend to be a light gray-brown color with some pink on the beak.
Because of the two subspecies of the tundra swan, it is sometimes considered two separate species instead of the one main tundra swan species. Therefore, depending on where you look, you may see that there are currently 6, 7, or 8 total swan species around the world (the last is a controversial one that we’ll go over later).
The tundra swan breeds on the ponds and tundra of more northern regions from north America to Eurasia. They tend to forage in shallow vegetated wetlands, where they reach under the surface for plants. They spend their winters in large flocks near fresh or saltwater.
As herbivores, the tundra swans feed mainly on the roots, stems, and leaves of aquatic plants, such as mannagrass, pondweeds, and algae, during the summer. During the winter, they will feed on corn, soybeans, and rice left after a harvest in the fields. They may also feed on currently growing crops, such as winter wheat, rye, and barley.
7. Coscoroba Swan
Scientific Name: Coscoroba coscoroba
Range: South America
The coscoroba swan is a white swan with a ruby red, rather ducklike beak and black wingtips that are usually hidden when swimming. The juveniles are a dirty brownish color and have black face masks, though this quickly changes to appear almost identical to adults within the first month or two after hatching. Adults are often confused with white domestic waterfowl.
The coscoroba swan is not considered a “true swan”, as they are more closely related genetically to the Cape Barren Goose than a swan. The coscoroba swan is considered an early, separate descendant from the common ancestor that led to true geese and swans, though their strong resemblance to swans has often placed them among the other swan species.
The coscoroba swan is relatively common; however, they can also sometimes be limited to local lakes, slow-moving rivers, wetlands containing open water, estuaries, and inshore coastal waters.
The coscoroba swan’s diet consists mainly of a variety of plant material, small aquatic insects, small fish, crustaceans, and fish fry. They may feed on some terrestrial plants, including their leaves, buds, stems, seeds, etc., to a degree as well.
As you can probably tell, even though swans aren’t as diverse a group as some of the other birds we’ve looked at, they’re actually quite commonly seen in areas around the world. In fact, it’s very possible you may be able to spot one in your country right now, and best of all, you most likely won’t need binoculars due to their size.