Swans are non-migratory birds with species on nearly every continent, and they are one of the largest flying birds on the planet. Aside from their sheer size and strength, the birds are often seen as an iconic symbol of everlasting love due to their monogamous practices. Several facts about swans will be interesting to students.
Types of Swans
Several species of swans exist. The most commonly seen swan is the Eurasian mute swan, which has white feathers and an orange bill. In North America, the population-threatened trumpeter swan, which is also white but has a black bill, is native. Whooper swans, which are similar in appearance to mute swans, have a yellow bill and hail from the subarctic. Tundra swans, from Canada, also have a yellow bill, though the end is black. Black-necked swans are native to South America, while black swans come from Australia.
Behaviour and Characteristics
Swans are territorial animals. The males exhibit aggressive behaviour in this respect all the time, while the females display a more acute territorial side when their young are born. Their diet consists of plants, usually the roots, leaves and tubers of aquatic vegetation. Male swans, which are larger and heavier than their female counterparts, can grow to have a wingspan of 9 feet. When swans are young, they have brown feathers. However, around age 2, their feathers grow in as white or black.
Swans and Their Young
Female swans generally lay five to eight eggs per year, all within days of one another. However, she will not start incubating them until the last egg is laid, so all the chicks to hatch at the same time. Young swans, called cygnets, are hatched after 36 days of incubation; however, only half make it through their first week of life. Swans grow up to form monogamous bonds which usually last the remainder of their lives. This can change if the pair's nesting ends in failure.
Swans in Legends and Popular Culture
Swans have played a large role in European legend, from the story of Leda and the Swan to "Children of Lir." Elements of such legends are seen in the ballet "Swan Lake," which was based on a German fairy tale. However, the story with which most children are familiar is "The Ugly Duckling," a tale about a cygnet whose egg is hatched alongside those of ducklings. He is ostracised for not being as attractive as his brood-mates, but he soon grows to be more beautiful than the rest.