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Baby Swan

Reading Time: 7 mins

What is a Baby Swan Called?

Baby Swans are called Cygnets. Welcome to the wonderful world of cygnets, where life begins not with a bang, but with a gentle crack of an egg. Yes, folks, we're talking about baby swans, and if you're picturing little bundles of fluffy gray down bobbing on the water's surface, you're on the right track.


Birth

It all begins in the warmth of a nest. Swan nests, often built near water, are large, sturdy affairs. The female, or pen, typically lays 4-7 eggs, each one a potential new life. She guards and incubates them for about 35-42 days, adjusting them frequently with her beak to ensure even heat distribution. Meanwhile, the male, or cob, patrols the surrounding area, fiercely protecting the future brood.


First Appearance

When you think of swans, what's the first image that comes to mind? Majestic, white creatures gliding gracefully across the water, right? Well, baby swans are a far cry from their elegant parents. They are tiny, weighing around 200 grams, a stark contrast to the eventual 10-12 kilograms that a mature swan can weigh.



They’re Born With Blue Eyes

Baby swans have blue eyes at birth, which gradually turn to brown as they mature. This is another one of those physical changes that they undergo as they transition to adulthood.


Self-Sufficiency

Cygnets are born with an impressive self-sufficiency. Most of them can swim within a few hours of hatching, and some can even begin feeding themselves on insects and vegetation. Within 24 hours of hatching, they can leave the nest, venturing into the water under the watchful eyes of their parents.


The School Buses

Isn't nature just incredible? I'll bet you didn't know that swan parents are like the school buses of the animal world! That's right, when it's time for a cygnet's first foray into the water, they often hitch a ride on their parent's back. Picture it: a tiny, fluffy cygnet hopping aboard the "SS Mom or Dad" for a jaunt around the pond. Now, this isn't just a joyride for the baby swans. Floating atop their parent’s back, the cygnets are out of reach from hungry predators lurking below the water surface. 



They're Super Sleepers

You might think all those swimming lessons would wear these babies out, but cygnets have an impressive ability to sleep both on land and while floating in water. They often nap on their mother's back while she's swimming, and it's an adorable sight to behold.


Neck Duels

Baby swans may engage in what's known as 'neck duels' to establish their rank in the brood hierarchy. When two swans have a bone to pick, they engage in this neck wrestling of sorts. But don't fret, it's not as violent as it might sound. It's more of a display, a show of strength and dominance, rather than a full-blown battle. Picture it: two swans, necks intertwined, pushing and shoving each other around on the water. A bit like a nature-themed wrestling match, but much more graceful and with fewer body slams!


Cygnet Mound

While they might squabble now and then, cygnets rely heavily on their siblings for warmth and protection, especially during their early days when they're more vulnerable. It's not uncommon to see them huddling together for warmth or comfort, creating a living, breathing pile of fluff known as a 'cygnet mound'. It's a sight that's as heartwarming as it is practical.



Webbed Feet

And let's not forget their feet. Oh, their feet are a marvel of evolution! Unlike other birds, baby swans have fully webbed feet. These act like powerful paddles, propelling them through water. This feature is crucial since cygnets spend most of their early life in water. 


The Little Divers

Talking about water, did you know that cygnets are quite the little divers? That's right! If threatened, they can dive underwater and swim away from danger. Their natural buoyancy makes them great at this submarine-style getaway. They learn this skill from their parents and use deftly.


Fluffy Feathers

But what about the fluffiness? That's not just for cuteness overload. The fluffy down serves a purpose - it provides insulation. As the cygnets are not yet able to regulate their body temperature effectively, this down acts as a warm blanket, keeping the cold at bay.



They Have a Sweet Tooth

Okay, not literally, but baby swans do have a penchant for sweet foods. In their early days, they often feed on aquatic vegetation, small insects, and even grains. But it's been observed that they also have a particular liking for sweet-tasting foods like watermelon and lettuce. Who knew swans were dessert lovers?


Ugly Duckling

There is an "ugly duckling" phase, a time when the cygnets undergo a startling transformation. Their fluffy down is replaced by proper feathers, their necks elongate, and they gradually attain the elegance we associate with swans. The transition is so profound that it's inspired countless stories and fairy tales.


Gray or Black Beak

If you look closely, you'll also notice their beaks are different from their parents'. Cygnets are born with a gray or black beak, which gradually changes color as they grow, ultimately matching the orange-red hue seen in adults.



What Do Baby Swans Eat?

Fresh out of the egg, cygnets can't just wing it and find food on their own. Their first meals are bits of food brought to them by their doting parents, typically consisting of insects and tiny plants. Insects provide them with the necessary protein for growth, while plants offer essential vitamins and minerals. 

Once the cygnets take to water - remember that exciting first dip we talked about? - their menu expands. They begin to peck at and sample a wider variety of aquatic plants. An intriguing meal you might spot them nibbling on is algae. Yes, these little creatures are quite the gourmets!

But it's not all about veggies for these youngsters. They also enjoy a good bit of protein. Snails, small fish, and even tadpoles are on the menu. That's like us having a bit of chicken or steak to balance out a salad, only in a very 'swan' way!


They're Picky Eaters

This might surprise you, but cygnets are known to be quite selective when it comes to their diet. They prefer fresh, green shoots of aquatic plants and tend to avoid older, tougher vegetation. This picky eating might be nature's way of ensuring that they get the most nutritious food to support their rapid growth.


Baby Swans have Stable Parents

You know how they say, "It takes a village to raise a child"? Well, in the swan world, it takes a couple - a truly devoted, monogamous pair of parents - to raise a cygnet. Swans are famously known for their monogamous relationships. Once they form a couple, they stay together for life. These lovebirds mate for life and share duties in nest-building, incubating, and rearing their young.



Development

Around the two-month mark, the cygnets start showing signs of independence. They begin exploring on their own, venturing a bit farther from their parents, and eating more plant material. As the cygnets reach the four-month mark, you'll notice a significant change – their feathers. It's almost like they're teenagers now, on the brink of adulthood but not quite there yet. By six to nine months, the cygnets, now called 'juveniles,' look much like their parents. Their bodies have grown, their necks have lengthened, and they've almost lost all their grey feathers. When the young swans reach their first birthday, they are considered adults.


Excellent Camouflage

From the moment they hatch, these tiny creatures are a potential snack for a wide array of predators. Baby swans are born with a grey or brown down, which provides an excellent camouflage against predators. Blending in with their surroundings is a handy trick when there are eagles, foxes, and large fishes around that wouldn't mind a cygnet snack.


Their Down is Used in Luxury Goods

Swan down, the incredibly soft feathers found on baby swans, is highly sought after in the world of luxury goods. It's often used in premium bedding products like duvets and pillows, due to its incredible insulation properties and plush feel.


Their Feathers Contain a Story

Much like tree rings, the feathers of swans, including cygnets, can tell a story about their growth, diet, and the environment they've been in. Scientists can analyze these feathers to gather data about the bird's life.




Sources:

Perrins, C. (2009). The Complete Birds of the Western Palearctic on CD-ROM. Oxford University Press.
Wilmore, S. B. (1974). Swans of the World. Taplinger Publishing Company.
Scott, P. (1972). The Swans. Michael Joseph Ltd.
Kear, J., & Hulme, M. (2005). Ducks, Geese and Swans. Oxford University Press.
BirdLife International. (2018). "Cygnus olor". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN.
Prosser, P., & King, C. E. (1977). "Care and development of cygnets (Cygnus spp.)". International Zoo Yearbook. 17: 98–104.