Distinguishable from geese by their longer, more slender necks, proportionately smaller heads and longer serrated bills, swans are noted for having 23-25 bones in their neck, a record for warm-blooded animals. The average is 12 in most birds and 19 in flamingos. As a result swans have incredibly flexible necks that allow them to feed deep beneath the surface. The swan’s powerful bill is reinforced with a large mandibular nail at the tip and a strong, spiny tongue.
First discovered by Dutch explorers near Perth in 1697, the black swan is the state bird of Western Australia and features in the national coat-of-arms. Overall sooty-black, the primary and secondary feathers flash white in flight.
Nests are large, untidy mounds of plant material in or close to the water. Aquatic nests are much larger than terrestrial ones and sometimes these enormous nests break loose of their anchors of rooted plants and float about with incubating swans aboard!
Domesticated in Britain probably as early as the 10th century, mute swans were considered the exclusive property of the British Crown for centuries and could only be owned by persons possessing a permit from the Royal Swan Master.
Unlike other swans, which use their extremely long, coiled trachea (windpipe) to produce loud calls, mute swans have a short and straight trachea. While they may not be able to make the resonant calls of other swans, they are far from mute. Irritated birds may hiss, snort, grunt, bark or even snore!
Females carry the silver-grey cygnets frequently for the first ten days after they hatch.