Swan FAQs

What is a female swan called? A pen

What is a male swan called? A cob

What do swans eat? Swans are naturally vegetarian, seeking water plants and algae. Adults are able to feed in sea water, expelling salt through their nostrils, though they need fresh water to drink. They will also graze grass if it is short enough, given the chance. They like willow leaves, but can reach only as far as they can stretch.

What can I feed the swans? Food should always be wholesome, never mouldy or rotten. See Feeding Swans

Is bread bad for swans? No, bread is only bad for swans if they are fed nothing but bread and have no other variation in their diet, but bread is not inherently dangerous to swans. What is dangerous is mouldy bread – as this can cause aspergillosis in swans and kill them.

Swans still get caught on fishing line – isn’t fishing banned in the Sanctuary? Yes, fishing has been banned in the Sanctuary since the early 1980s. However, individuals still fish from time to time and leave their line, sometimes with hooks, which swans get caught on or swallow. Swans may have flown in from elsewhere with fishing line or find old line on the river bed or bank.

Do swans still get lead poisoning, even with lead weights being banned? Unfortunately, yes. At times when the river is low they are able to access parts of the riverbed they could not reach before. So when foraging for food and grit, they may pick up lead weights that might have been down there for years.

Why does that swan have its leg on its back – is it a leg injury? No, it’s warming its foot! Sometimes it’s completely tucked up in its feathers.

How long do swans live for? About 7 years. This is due to the hazards they face such as pollution, dogs, wild mink, foxes, overhead cables, bridges, pylons, lead poisoning, fishing hooks/lines. However, swans living in safer environments with adequate nutrition may live on into their twenties. Cygnets have a very high mortality rate, which contributes to the low average lifespan for wild swans. Whole broods can be lost.

When do swans start to mate? Young swans usually live as part of a flock (such as in the sanctuary in Worcester) until the age of three or four. However, occasionally a two year old will lay eggs, such as the swan pictured in the centre of the interpretation board in the sanctuary. As they grow up they start to form relationships and flirt. They may pair up but will not breed until they have established a secure territory of their own. This may take a year or two.

How old are the swans in the swan sanctuary? Ages range from cygnets that have recently arrived, and immature swans, to mature adults that have brought their cygnets or have left their territory temporarily because of food scarcity, all the way to elderly swans or disabled swans.

How many swans are in the swan sanctuary? This varies according to the time of year,between 130 and 270. Numbers increase in autumn and winter with the arrival of cygnets, and adults from the countryside seeking food.

Why are there rarely nests or small cygnets in the swan sanctuary? The riverside in Worcester is poor for nesting due to the large number of swans on the river and the great variation in river level. Boat traffic, as well as flooding, has undercut the river banks and made them steeper, so nests are built too low and are washed away as the river rises.

When is the breeding season for swans? Mute swans, the swans you see in the sanctuary (and the most common swan in the United Kingdom & mainland Europe) can mate any time of year, but usually breed from spring through to summer. In Worcester currently, the earliest hatching is in the second half of April, and is usually finished by the end of May.

How long do swans sit on their eggs for? Eggs are laid every other day. Once the clutch is complete (the average is six, with a range of 1-12) they are incubated by the mother for 35 days.

Why is that swan still on her eggs? It’s been longer than 6 weeks. She may have lost her first clutch of eggs to a predator, and has laid another one.

What preys on swans and cygnets? All swans can be preyed upon by foxes and mink. Additionally, swans are killed every year by dog attacks, as in this dreadful case – so please keep your dogs leashed on the riverside/canalside. Newly-hatched cygnets can be lost to crows, herons, magpies, gulls, turtles, pike. Eggs can be lost to rats – this is why it’s vital not to throw food anywhere near a swan’s nest.

What happens if a pen dies before the cyngets have grown up? The cob (father) will raise the cygnets himself.

Do swans breed for their whole lives? Some older swans ‘retire’ and may seek out a flock to join, perhaps after the loss of a partner.

Why do the parents chase off their cygnets? Typically, once cygnets are large enough to fend for themselves, and turning white, the parents will chase them off – sometimes very aggressively. – to protect the food supply in their territory, ready for the next brood.

Cygnets won’t leave & are being attacked very aggressively – what can I do? In the majority of cases the situation resolves itself. This is the last lesson parents teach their cygnets, who will themselves chase away their own cygnets to protect the food supply in their territory. However, if it comes to injury, or if the cygnet cannot fly, or the territory is so surrounded by trees that inexperienced cygnets cannot fly out, please Call for help.

Do swans mate for life? Yes, this tends to be true given the chance. However, if swans lose a mate, most will take a new partner to help them maintain their territory. Having found a new mate, the swan may then stay where it is, or fly off to find a new stretch of water, or it may chose to re-join a flock.

Do swans moult? Yes – this is generally a 6 week process between June-August every year. During this period swans cannot fly, as they lose their ‘primary’ flight feathers. Breeding pairs moult one after another, so one parent is fully able to defend their cygnets. Being flightless makes swans more vulnerable to attack from predators and fully-feathered swans.

Can swans bite? Technically, no. Swans don’t have teeth. They can nip and peck, though.

Where do swans sleep? Swans sleep either on land or whilst floating on water. They often tuck their heads between their wings, the beak tucked under. They frequently lift one eyelid to monitor their surroundings.

Why does that swan have an orange stain on its head? This is caused by the presence of iron in the body of water they’re on, which stains the swan’s feathers.

Can a swan break your arm? There have been a few rare cases of broken or cracked bones, but blows from wings are more likely to just cause bruises.

Does the King own all the swans? The King retains the right to most swans. Some are owned by other organisations who keep their ancient right to own swans: Abbotsbury, The Vintners’ Company and The Dyers’ Company.

This is not ownership as we know it! We are responsible for animals that we own, for feeding, treatment and keeping them safe, and may be liable if they cause damage, injury or death. This is not the case with the King’s swans. The ‘ownership’ is a traditional right which is not activated (but could be). Swans and their nests are not now protected by right of ownership, but by wildlife law, The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981. Harming them could result in fines or imprisonment.