One of the most glamourized species of nature, swans have long been used in literature and folktales, and they represent light, purity, and intuition. They can be found in abundance in the areas of North America, Australia, and New Zealand.
If you’re an avid bird watcher and are growing curious about these birds, then keep on reading because this post contains all the information and answers to your questions that you might have about these beautiful birds.
Swans have a pure all-white plumage. Although the color variation may depend entirely on the swan species, most still have an all-white plumage. The southern hemisphere species, however, are mixed with black and white.
Swans are a member of the family of Anatidae, one of the largest members of the waterfowl family, and one of the largest flying water birds. Their closest relatives are ducks and geese. There are six distinct species of swans found across the globe.
These birds are 59 inches (1.5 m) in length and weigh over 15 kg (33 lb.). They have a wingspan of over 10 ft. (3.1 m). Compared to other relatives like ducks and geese, they are much larger and can fly and cover a great distance.
Swans mostly have white plumage, a long neck, and a sturdy bill, making them stand out from the rest of the water birds.
There are about eight distinct types of swan species, out of which most of them have either black wingtips, back necks, or are overall covered in black feathers with white tips. Therefore, no, not all species of swans are white; some of them have a mix of black too.
Although a common picture that’s long been established in our heads is of the swan that they have to be white—which is where we get the notion that swans have to be white, but when people find out that swans can also be mixed with black or can be black overall, they don’t believe it.
Most swan species are white, but variation in their color and plumage is often seen in The Southern Hemisphere species of swans; the Northern Hemisphere swan species all have a pure all-white plumage covering their entire body, from the base of their bills to the ends of their tails.
Among eight distinct species of swans, some have black feathers and others that are entirely white. There’s a variation of color found across swan species, but to say that more than two colors are present in these birds would be a lie.
There are only three colors found in swans—black, white, and at times greyish-brown!
It’s hard to believe that greyish-brown swans exist, but you must understand the reason behind their very being. These birds are leucistic. Leucistic swans are not familiar to many of us because their rare condition makes them hard to spot in the wild.
Leucism in swans is a rare genetic condition that hinders melanin production, which results in the irregular disposition of pigments. As a result, the pigments are either dull or muted. For example, if a bird were supposed to have a dark neck or black wingtips, it would have dull brown color in those areas instead of black.
How can you identify these swans and tell them apart from one another?
Well, it’s easy! Most of them have black in their plumage, and others have distinct knobs on their bills, making it easier for us to tell them apart.
|Swan Species||Special Feature|
|Black-necked swan||Black plumage covering its head and running down to its neck, a bright red knob on the base of its beak.|
|Black Swan||Black colored plumage, a pale stripe running across the tip of its bright orange beak, few white feathers in wings.|
|Mute Swan||Orange beak, black mouth line, black feet, a black knob on the beak.|
|Trumpeter Swan||Black beak, black/grey feet, long thin neck.|
|Tundra Swan (Bewick’s Swan)||Yellow blot on the base of its beak extending to its eyes, black legs, and feet.|
|Tundra Swan (Whistling swan)||Black beak, yellow marking on beak, long neck, black feet.|
|Whooper Swan||Yellow beak with a solid black tip, black feet.|
|Coscoroba Swan||Reddish-pink legs, reddish beak, black wingtips.|
If you’ve ever come across a swan and aren’t sure what species exactly you were looking at, then let this chart help you out with the identification process.
|Swan Species||Scientific Names|
|Black-necked swan||Cygnus Melancoryphus|
|Black Swan||Cygnus Atratus|
|Mute Swan||Cygnus Olor|
|Trumpeter Swan||Cygnus Buccinator|
|Tundra Swan (Bewick’s Swan)||Cygnus Columbianus Bewickii|
|Tundra Swan (Whistling swan)||Cygnus Columbianus|
|Whooper Swan||Cygnus Cygnus|
|Coscoroba Swan||Coscoroba Coscoroba|
Black-necked swan has a white body with a black-colored neck. The black plumage covers its face and runs all the way down to the nape of its neck. They have an orange/red knob near the base of the beak and a greyish bill. Both sexes are similar and hard to tell apart.
Black swans have an overall black plumage with white plumes primarily on the wings, making them unique and one of the most distinct species of swans. They have a bright red bill with a pale stripe running across the tip of its beak.
Mute swans are white with a bill orange in color with a black base and outline and small eyes. It looks as though they’re wearing a bandit mask. They are one of the heaviest flying water birds. The female swan is smaller than the male swan. You can easily tell them apart once you spot them.
Trumpeter swans are known for their sturdy black bills with black markings extending to their eyes, making them look as though they’re also wearing a bandit mask, just like mute swans. They’re white in color and are quite similar to whistling swans. Their feet are usually grey-black, which is easy to spot.
Tundra swan or Bewick’s swan has a white plumage covering its entire body with distinct black and yellow markings on its beak. They also have a black mouth line and markings that extend to their eyes.
A whistling swan is quite similar to trumpeter swan—they have a white coat of fine plumage, a sturdy black bill, with pink streak running along with the mouth, and yellow blotting on the base of its bill. Their feet are black, and they have shiny brown eyes.
Whooper swan is a white-colored swan species with a yellow beak with a black blot on the tip. The legs can vary from black to dark-grey depending on the distribution of pigments in their bodies. These birds are large, bigger in size than Bewick’s Swan.
Like a few other swan species, Coscoroba swan is all white, except what’s different is that it has black-colored feathers on the tips of its wings. In addition, it has brown eyes, a red beak, and reddish feet. Both the sexes look pretty similar.
To sum it up, not all species of the swan are white. The only color found in swans other than white is black and greyish-brown. And this color is distributed in mysterious ways. Some swans have a black neck, some have black wingtips, some are leucistic, and others are entirely black.
Are you thrilled to discover that there are other variations of color present in swans? Well, there is a whole lot you can read to surprise yourself. If you wish to discover more, read this exciting post exploring whether ducks can change their gender or not?
My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!
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