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Quick Fact

Adult mute swans feed heavily on water plants (each swan consuming about 4 to 8 pounds per day), uprooting much more than consumed. This continuous feeding can lead to the depletion of aquatic vegetation, as they occupy habitat throughout the year in many locations. Furthermore, it has also reduced the availability of these plants for consumption, causing a decline in the number of native wildlife species such as fish, amphibians, etc.

Swans are the largest waterbird species, belonging to the family Anatidae of the genus Cygnus. They are closely related to gooses and ducks.

They are graceful birds with heavy bodies and long flexible necks. Their legs are short and feet are large and webbed. Furthermore, their beaks are broad and have serrated edges that appear like sharp and uneven teeth. However, birds do not have teeth and so is the case with a swan.

Swans are found across the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Three main species of swans, namely the trumpeter swan, tundra swan, and the mute swan are found in North America. While the trumpeter swan and the tundra swan originate here, the mute swan is originally a Eurasian species. The aforementioned swans come in the Northern hemisphere while those in the Southern Hemisphere include the black swan, the black-necked swan, and the coscoroba swan. Let's understand the eating habits of a swan.

What do Swans Eat?

Swans are omnivorous, however, their diet is mostly vegetarian. Moreover, they forage and feed both in water, as well as on land.

At times, they feed on insects found both in water and on land.

In water, their diet mostly includes marginal plants, stems, leaves, roots, tubers of aquatic submerged, floating, and emergent plants, and at times, some aquatic animals or small fish. In fresh waters, they consume stonewort, widgeon grass, pondweed, and at times, tadpoles and milfoil. In salt waters, club rush, eel grass, sea arrow grass, salt marsh grass, green algae, insects, and mollusks make up their diet.

On land, they consume plants, seeds, berries, and grasses along the banks, and they tend to feast on cultivated grains from open fields as well as the leftover grains and vegetables by farmers.

Feeding Behavior

It has been observed that they do not dive for feeding in water, rather they dabble or upend to reach their food. Also, their long necks enable them to plunge well below the water's surface.

While feeding, they constantly pump their feet up and down over roots and plants. This produces a current of water that shakes off the mud and releases the roots and plants from the ground. Furthermore, the large size of their feet helps them to maintain balance when they upend to feed. Thus, their feet have an important role to play when feeding.

Most species of swans swim while feeding.

What to Feed Swans

It is important to keep their diet as natural as possible. The food size should also be kept in mind so that it is not difficult for them to swallow.

They can be fed with grains like wheat, corn or cracked corn, and fresh greens like lettuce, spinach, popcorn, whole oats, brown rice, carrots, alfalfa sprouts, lentils, small seeds, and split peas. Make sure to chop the vegetables that you plan to feed them.

You can also feed them gently steamed peelings of broccoli, potatoes, green beans, and cabbage. (Remember to only gently steam and never cook.) Moreover, the food that you feed them can be warm but should never be hot.

Points to Consider

Swans are wild species and their natural diet suits them the best, both nutrition-wise and health-wise. Moreover, feeding them frequently with foodstuffs such as bread and chips may cause health problems over time. Avoid junk, fatty, sugary, starchy, cooked, and processed foodstuffs with artificial coloring or flavors.

If and when feeding a swan, it is better to throw the food in water. Never encourage it to come on land due to the potential danger or harm from other animals, cars, etc. Throwing the food onto the water will also enable the bird to swallow the food along with the water, thus helping them digest the food more easily.

These birds should not be overfed. Usually, they eat only the required amount.

During winters, there may be scarce amounts of food available. Feeding in such cases, can be of much help to them. It may save their lives in some cases.

Preferences of Some Swan Species

Although the eating habits of most swan species are almost similar, they have slight changes in their behavior and likes. This can be based on the availability of food in that area or various other factors. The tundra swans prefer feeding on stems, seeds, bulbous roots of aquatic plants, corn, wheat and the seeds and young shoots of bulbous grains, shellfish and mollusks (like mussels and clams). At times, they feed on larvae of aquatic beetles, dragonflies, and worms. In the case of the mute swans, a major portion of their diet comprises coontail, waterweed, pondweed, wild rice, and wild celery. Black swans primarily consume algae and submerged weeds.