Capturing the world with Photography, Painting and Drawing

Irish Wild-life – Mute swans

Irish wildlife photography swans
Images taken using a Nikin D700/D7000,
Fujifilm x100
Irish wild-life photography , Swans
Landscape and nature photograhy by : Nigel Borrington

The Mute Swan

Mute Swans

Our largest bird, the mute swan is also the most common swan species in Europe. Its widespread distribution is linked in part to its domestication at various periods in history. These elegant, graceful birds can be seen all year round on lakes, rivers and ponds around the country, even in the middle of our cities. Most of the swans we see today are wild birds, although some, particularly in urban areas, are likely descended from domestic lines and remain semi-dependent on human supplements to naturally available food sources.

The mute swan’s graceful appearance belies a somewhat belligerent demeanour. Adults regularly bully smaller species and in the breeding season the male stakes out a large area of water and defends it aggressively against all-comers. While not strictly mute, the mute swan is a much less vocal bird than the other species of swan found in Ireland, the Bewick’s swan and the whooper swan, both scarce winter visitors. Its repertoire consists mainly of soft grunts, snorts and hisses – with the occasionally feeble trumpet. In flight however the swan is anything but silent: it’s wings create a loud, rhythmic throbbing noise as they beat the air, the rhythm of which is said to have inspired Wagner when composing Ride of the Valkyrie.

Take off is a laboured affair with the swans running across the surface of the water to gain momentum while frantically beating their powerful wings in a struggle to get airborne. Once in the air, however, flight is fast and smooth with slow, powerful wing-beats and outstretched neck. Swans land on the water, skiing across the surface to slow their substantial bulk before settling.

Swan family

On the water mute swans cruise gracefully, their necks held in a characteristic curve not found in other swan species. The male, or cob, is slightly larger than the female, or pen, with a larger black knob at the base of the orange-red bill. Breeding usually takes place on still inland waterways from late April. The pair builds an enormous nest of water plants, sometimes up to 13 feet (4 metres) across, close to the water. Three to eight large blue-grey eggs are laid and the adults will defend the nest aggresively. The sight of an attacking adult is usually enough to keep most intruders away, including people. Reports of human injury from swan attack are greatly exaggerated, although a bird of this size and power is certainly capable of inflicting damage. As a rule of thumb swans on and around the nest site should be left well alone.

Cygnets hatch in 34-38 days, and the female often carries her downy grey offspring on her back, where they can be seen peeking out from beneath her arched wings. The family usually stay together until the following spring, when the aggressive parents will chase off the younger birds as they start to get their white adult plumage. The young birds will take three to four years to mature and can live for up to twenty years.

There are thought to be 20,000 or so mute swans in Ireland. Unlike the Bewick’s swan and whooper swan, which are migratory, the resident mute swan rarely moves far, although individuals have been recorded travelling over 200 miles. During the post-breeding moult and over the winter mute swans sometimes gather in large flocks on certain bodies of water, like lakes and estuaries, where their incessant foraging can seriously deplete limited stocks of aquatic plant life.

The oft-quoted statement that mute swans pair for life is in fact a myth, although it is not uncommon for the same pair to breed in consecutive years. It is, of course, also untrue that if one of a pair of swans dies that the other will soon die of a broken heart.

by Calvin Jones


19 responses

  1. They’re such beautiful swans. Lovely shots! πŸ™‚

    September 19, 2013 at 11:35 am

    • Hello Norma πŸ™‚

      Thank you, yes they are – πŸ™‚

      You see so many that its easy to forget just how wild they are πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

      September 19, 2013 at 11:55 am

  2. Cynthia

    Beautiful images. And I learned something new – they don’t pair for life! πŸ˜‰

    September 19, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    • Hello Cynthia

      Thank you πŸ™‚

      Yes, they do look for each other again but not always …..

      September 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

  3. artscottnet

    Hi Nigel. A fascinating article with amazing images

    September 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    • Hello Scott πŸ™‚

      Thank you and as always I am very pleased you enjoyed and commented πŸ™‚

      September 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

  4. Just beautiful images, Nigel. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ The top one looks like home πŸ™‚

    Swans are such graceful looking creatures we expect them to have similar behaviors, so it was interesting to read that isn’t always the case :-).

    I love your bird theme for today!!

    September 19, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    • Hello Sharon πŸ™‚

      Thank you πŸ™‚

      Re Bird theme , (Thank you) I didn’t plan it that way, but they went together well when it came to posting them πŸ™‚

      September 19, 2013 at 4:39 pm

  5. The first photograph is first rate – love the textures, ripples and reflections. Nice find and wonderful work ~

    September 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    • Hello Mary πŸ™‚

      Thank you, great/helpfull and very welcome comments – Many Thanks πŸ™‚

      September 20, 2013 at 10:18 am

  6. We have mute swans in the Mill Pond behind my house. I have watched them do all the things you mentioned except attack–my neighbor feeds them, and has trained them to come when called! As long as we don’t encounter any nests I guess we won’t be attacked. However, the state of Michigan has determined them to be a nuisance invasive species and is out to reduce the state swan population drastically. I won’t be helping them do it! There are about 15,000 mute swans in Michigan and the state wants to reduce that to 2,000.

    September 19, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    • Hello Alli πŸ™‚

      The Invasive species debate is in full flight (Hu :)) here too Alli.

      I think it’s a very difficult subject, I just attended a two day course up in Dublin and this was one of the biggest subjects.

      I cannot help but feel for plants etc,, it’s very valid. i.e. people buying an imported plant from a garden center. An example was given of a local EPA office having to spend 2m euro, cleaning a lake of some size, from a pond plant that someone didn’t like, i..e it took over their pond, so as they lived on the side of the lake they thought it best to gift it to the environment πŸ™‚ OMG!

      However for birds and insects, I just have a different feeling and it’s simply because they can change their wintering habits. As they can go were they like should we stop them?

      I don’t think when the weather directs them a different way and they like it more they know that they are not meant to be there πŸ™‚

      It was a really interesting two days πŸ™‚

      I remember being attacked by a swan as a kid, it’s like you say they are rightly very defensive of their young, you just have to respect this a remember it also.

      Great comments Alli, Thank you πŸ™‚

      September 20, 2013 at 10:34 am

      • I wouldn’t mind “redirecting” the swans to new territory if that were possible, but the Michigan Department of Natural Resources wants to kill most of them.

        September 21, 2013 at 3:21 am

      • That’s very sad Alli. They get such a hard time .

        September 21, 2013 at 11:21 am

  7. Vicki (from Victoria A Photography)

    Love that first shot with the reflection of the water reeds, Nigel. I love the 2 mute swans we have at Melbourne Zoo, but we have none in the wild on this eastern side of Australia.

    September 20, 2013 at 10:16 am

    • Hello Vicki πŸ™‚

      Thank you πŸ™‚

      OH, that’s really interesting Vicki. Do you have other types of Swan’s ?

      September 20, 2013 at 10:36 am

      • Vicki (from Victoria A Photography)

        We have black swans in my state of Victoria. I believer the white Mute Swans only live in the wild in the state on the western side of Australia.

        I did a little Google search after seeing the one white Mute Swan at the Zoo – I’d never seen a white swan before. It was only in the last year that I saw a second white swan at the Zoo, so I assume Melbourne Zoo obtained a ‘mate’ from Western Australia.

        I don’t often see the black swans on the lake in the Botanic Gardens these days, but then I don’t walk in the Botanic Gardens as much these days as the hills are too steep.

        My walks always seem to revolve around the health issues of the day.

        September 20, 2013 at 1:29 pm

  8. Awww…. so heartwarming and beautiful!

    September 24, 2013 at 11:52 am

  9. 1annecasey

    Such gorgeous images – I love the middle one in particular – just perfect for a Hallmark card!

    October 2, 2013 at 11:27 am

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