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Black Swans


Black swan

The black swan (Cygnus atratus) is a large waterbird, a species of swan which breeds mainly in the southeast and southwest regions of Australia. Within Australia they are nomadic, with erratic migration patterns dependent upon climatic conditions. Black swans are large birds with mostly black plumage and red bills. They are monogamous breeders, and are unusual in that one-quarter of all pairings are homosexual, mostly between males. Both partners share incubation and cygnet rearing duties.

Black swans were introduced to various countries as an ornamental bird in the 1800s, but have escaped and formed stable populations. A small population of black swans exists on the River Thames at Marlow, on the Brook running through the small town of Dawlish in Devon (they have become the symbol of the town), near the River Itchen, Hampshire, and the River Tees near Stockton on Tees.

Described scientifically by English naturalist John Latham in 1790, the black swan was formerly placed into a monotypic genus, Chenopis. Black swans can be found singly, or in loose companies numbering into the hundreds or even thousands.

 Black swans are popular birds in zoological gardens and bird collections, and escapees are sometimes seen outside their natural range.

Side view of mature adult showing characteristic "S" neck

Near Devonport, Tasmania with wings raised in an aggressive display revealing white flight feathers

Black swans are mostly black-feathered birds, with white flight feathers. The bill is bright red, with a pale bar and tip; and legs and feet are greyish-black. Cobs (males) are slightly larger than pens (females), with a longer and straighter bill. Cygnets (immature birds) are a greyish-brown with pale-edged feathers.

A mature black swan measures between 110 and 142 centimetres (43 and 56 in) in length and weighs 3.7–9 kilograms (8.2–19.8 lb). Its wing span is between 1.6 and 2 metres (5.2 and 6.6 ft). The neck is long (relatively the longest neck among the swans) and curved in an "S"-shape.

The black swan utters a musical and far reaching bugle-like sound, called either on the water or in flight, as well as a range of softer crooning notes. It can also whistle, especially when disturbed while breeding and nesting.

When swimming, black swans hold their necks arched or erect and often carry their feathers or wings raised in an aggressive display. In flight, a wedge of black swans will form as a line or a V, with the individual birds flying strongly with undulating long necks, making whistling sounds with their wings and baying, bugling or trumpeting calls.

The black swan's preferred habitat extends across fresh, brackish and salt water lakes, swamps and rivers with underwater and emergent vegetation for food and nesting materials. Permanent wetlands are preferred, including ornamental lakes, but black swans can also be found in flooded pastures and tidal mudflats, and occasionally on the open sea near islands or the shore.

Black swans were once thought to be sedentary, but the species is now known to be highly nomadic. There is no set migratory pattern, but rather opportunistic responses to either rainfall or drought. In high rainfall years, emigration occurs from the south west and south east into the interior, with a reverse migration to these heartlands in drier years. When rain does fall in the arid central regions, black swans will migrate to these areas to nest and raise their young. However, should dry conditions return before the young have been raised, the adult birds will abandon the nests and their eggs or cygnets and return to wetter areas.

Black swans, like many other water fowl, lose all their flight feathers at once when they moult after breeding and they are unable to fly for about a month. During this time they will usually settle on large, open waters for safety.

The species has a large range, with figures between one and ten million km2 given as the extent of occurrence. The current global population is estimated to be up to 500,000 individuals. No threat of extinction or significant decline in population has been identified with this numerous and widespread bird.

In flight

Before the arrival of the Māori in New Zealand, a related species of swan known as the New Zealand swan had developed there, but was apparently hunted to extinction. In 1864, the Australian black swan was introduced to New Zealand as an ornamental waterfowl and populations are now common on larger coastal or inland lakes, especially Rotorua Lakes, Lake Wairarapa, Lake Ellesmere, and the Chatham Islands. Black swans have also naturally flown to New Zealand, leading scientists to consider them a native rather than exotic species, although the present population appears to be largely descended from deliberate introductions.

The black swan is also very popular as an ornamental waterbird in western Europe, especially Britain, and escapees are commonly reported. As yet, the population in Britain is not considered to be self-sustaining and so the species is not afforded admission to the official British List, but the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have recorded a maximum of nine breeding pairs in the UK in 2001, with an estimate of 43 feral birds in 2003-2004.

A colony of black swans in Dawlish, Devon has become so well associated with the town that the bird has been the town's emblem for forty years.
 Black swans used to live in Lake Junaluska, a large lake in Waynesville, North Carolina.

There are also wild populations in Japan, having originally been imported during 1950-1960.

Black swans have been reported in Florida, USA, but there is no evidence that these examples are breeding; persistent sightings may be due to continuing releases or escapes.

Black swans can also be found in China.
In 2018 one group of swans was introduced to the Shenzhen University campus on an artificial lake in Guangdong Province.


Up-ending in deeper water to reach food

Cygnus atratus, Spring rain

Diet and feeding

General details 

see also FAQ - should I feed them 

The black swan is almost exclusively herbivorous, and while there is some regional and seasonal variation, the diet is generally dominated by aquatic and marshland plants.

In New South Wales the leaf of reedmace (genus Typha) is the most important food of birds in wetlands, followed by submerged algae and aquatic plants such as Vallisneria
In Queensland, aquatic plants such as Potamogeton, stoneworts, and algae are the dominant foods. 

The exact composition varies with water level; in flood situations where normal foods are out of reach black swans will feed on pasture plants on shore.

The black swan feeds in a similar manner to other swans. When feeding in shallow water it will dip its head and neck under the water and it is able to keep its head flat against the bottom while keeping its body horizontal. In deeper water the swan up-ends to reach lower. Black swans are also able to filter feed at the water's surface.

Nesting and reproduction

Parent with cygnets in Australia


Cygnus atratus - MHNT

Like other swans, the black swan is largely monogamous, pairing for life (about 6% divorce rate). Recent studies have shown that around a third of all broods exhibit extra-pair paternity.

An estimated one-quarter of all pairings are homosexual, mostly between males.  They steal nests, or form temporary threesomes with females to obtain eggs, driving away the female after she lays the eggs.

Generally, black swans in the Southern hemisphere nest in the wetter winter months (February to September), occasionally in large colonies. A black swan nest is essentially a large heap or mound of reeds, grasses and weeds between 1 and 1.5 metres (3-4½ feet) in diameter and up to 1 metre high, in shallow water or on islands.

 A nest is reused every year, restored or rebuilt as needed. Both parents share the care of the nest. A typical clutch contains 4 to 8 greenish-white eggs that are incubated for about 35–40 days.

Incubation begins after the laying of the last egg, to synchronise the hatching of the chicks. Prior to the commencement of incubation the parent will sit over the eggs without actually warming them. Both sexes incubate the eggs, with the female incubating at night.

The change over between incubation periods is marked by ritualised displays by both sexes.

If eggs accidentally roll out of the nest both sexes will retrieve the egg using the neck (in other swan species only the female performs this feat).
Like all swans, black swans will aggressively defend their nests with their wings and beaks.

After hatching, the cygnets are tended by the parents for about 9 months until fledging.
Cygnets may ride on their parent's back for longer trips into deeper water, but black swans undertake this behaviour less frequently than mute and black-necked swans.

Relationship with humans


The black swan is protected in New South Wales, Australia under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (s.5). It is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of 
Threatened Species.

Australian culture

Flag of Western Australia

Western Australian coat-of-arms

The black swan (Cygnus atratus) is widely referenced in Australian culture, although the character of that importance historically diverges between the prosaic in the East and the symbolic in West. The black swan is also of spiritual significance in the traditional histories of many Australian Aboriginal peoples across southern Australia. Metaphoric references to black swans have appeared in European culture since long before the real-life discovery of Cygnus atratus in Australia in the 18th century.

The black swan is the official state emblem of Western Australia and is depicted on the flag of Western Australia, as well as being depicted on the Western Australian coat-of-arms. The symbol is used in other emblems, coins, logos, mascots and in the naming of sports teams.

The black swan was a literary or artistic image, even before the discovery of Cygnus atratus. Cultural reference has been based on symbolic contrast and as a distinctive motif.

The black swan's role in Australian heraldry and culture extends to the first founding of the colonies in the eighteenth century. It has often been equated with antipodean identity, the contrast to the white swan of the northern hemisphere indicating 'Australianness'.

The black swan is featured on the flag, and is both the state bird and state emblem of Western Australia; it also appears in the Coat of Arms and other iconography of the state's institutions.

Western Australia


Black swans were first seen by Europeans (Dutch explorer) in 1697, when Willem de Vlamingh's [WaBiz] expedition when sailed into, explored and named the Swan River, 
Western Australia (the western coast of New Holland.


The coat of arms of Western Australia includes a black swan as the principal charge on the shield. A black swan on a gold plate or disk has been the official badge of the state since 1876, and is shown on the flag of Western Australia. The coat of arms of Australia (1912 version) shows, in its fifth quarter, the black swan on a gold field, representing the state as one of the original states in the federation.

Image from a Western Australia Planning Commission document; the motto refers to black swans.

Although the State Arms were granted in 1969, municipal heraldry had already been using the black swan symbolism since 1926, when the coat of arms of Perthwere granted with a black swan as a charge in the first quarter and black swan supporters. This was followed by Northam (1953, black swan crest) and Bunbury(1959, black swan crest). Following the grant of the State Arms, municipal arms continued this tradition: Fremantle (1971, charge), Gosnells (1978, charge), Melville (1981, supporters) and Subiaco (1984, crest). All of the municipal arms granted by the Crown have included a representation of a black swan, presumably acknowledging the allegiance of each municipality to the state.

In the history of the Western Australian Government Railways - the black swan emblem occurred between the 1920s to the 1980s

Several state authorities have also been granted arms showing a black swan: St George's College at the University of Western Australia (1964, charges), Fremantle Port Authority (1965, crest), and the University of Western Australia (1972, charges). The university had used an assumed version of these arms since 1913, and the university's student guild reaffirmed its assumption and use of a differenced version of the University Arms in 1991. 

Authorities with assumed arms showing a black swan include Royal Perth Hospital (1936, charge), and the University of Western Australia residential colleges of St Thomas More (charge), Currie Hall (charge) and St Catherines (charge).

Religious authorities have also used representations of the black swan in their heraldic emblems. Of the two largest denominations in the state, there are the Anglican dioceses of Kalgoorlie (1956, charge) and North-West Australia (1956, charge); and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Perth (charge).


1954 Australian stamp commemorating the first Western Australian stamp which featured the black swan

The Colony of Western Australia produced its first postage stamps in 1854, and in contrast to the usual practice within the British Empire, they featured, not a portrait of Queen Victoria, but an image of the black swan. The design of the stamp underwent several modifications over the next 48 years, until 1902, when the last design was produced, although the swan stamps continued in use until 1913, when Australian stamps superseded the colonial/state issues. The most famous of the series was the four-penny Blue Inverted Swan produced in 1855, in which the central image was printed upside down. The stamp is now an acknowledged philatelic rarity, with only fifteen known to have survived. 

Stamp issues in all of the other British colonies in Australasia, such as New South Wales, featured royal portraits rather than local symbols, apart from some one-off commemorative issues.

Decorative arts

Black swans feature as emblems and decorations on most important public buildings in Western Australia. An example is the tower of the Fremantle Town Hall.

The Wembley Ware range of "fancy ware" was produced between 1945 and 1961 by HL Brisbane and Wunderlich Ltd/Bristile in Subiaco. The Wembley Ware range typified the spirit of post-war buoyancy in Western Australia during the 1950s, with art ceramics specifically for a local market using emblems of local Westralian identity. The majority of the works were decorative rather than functional to escape high taxes on purely decorative ceramics at this time and exploited highly coloured glazes and overtly Australian content in their designs. 

The majority of Wembley Ware was created with an apparent intended purpose such as vases, ashtrays or lamps, but these were usually superfluous to the designs. Some of the most sought-after and eccentric designs included the open-mouthed dhufish vase and black swan ashtray. A variety of swan-shaped ashtrays and vases were produced in a range of sizes, colours and glazes.

Indigenous Australia

The Noongar People of the South-West of Australia refer to the black swan by various local names; Kooldjak along the West and South-West coast, Gooldjak in the South East and sometimes referred to as maali in language schools.

Aboriginal history and lore

Daisy Bates recorded a nyoongar man called Woolberr "last of the black swan group" of the Nyungar people of south-western Australia in the 1920s.
 The website of the Premier of Western Australia refers to Nyungar lore of how the ancestors of the Nyungar people were once black swans who became men.

The Dreamtime story of the black swans tells how two brothers were turned into white swans so they could help an attack party during a raid for weapons. It is said that Wurrunna used a large gubbera, or crystal stone, to transform the men. After the raid, eaglehawks attacked the white swans and tore feathers from the birds. Crows who were enemies of the eaglehawks came to the aid of the brothers and gave the black swans their own black feathers. The black swan's red beak is said to be the blood of the attacked brothers, which stayed there forever.

The moral code embedded in Aboriginal lore is evident in a story from an unspecified locality in eastern Australia (probably in New South Wales) published in 1943. An Aboriginal man, fishing in a lagoon, caught a baby bunyip. Instead of returning the baby to the water, he wanted to take the bunyip back to the camp to boast of his fishing prowess, against the urging of his friends. Before he could do anything, the angry mother bunyip rose from the water, flooding swirling water around them, and took back her baby. As the water receded, the men found that they had been changed into black swans. As punishment for the fisherman's vanity, they never regained their human form, but could be heard at night talking in human voices as a reminder to their human relatives of the perils of pride and arrogance.


Can I feed them

Offering swans food is not recommended but it's part of the evolution 
as we integrate / immigrate with other species and cultures we evolve 

the argument in an ideal world is full of pros and cons
immigration is a clash of cultures tastes and so on 

it's all about find the balance, be flexible and evolve 

For many people, feeding swans at the local park or waterway is an enjoyable way of interacting with wildlife. 
However, feeding non-natural sources of food can / may lead to nutritional imbalances, can / may increase the risk of disease and lead to altered animal behaviour.

Bread is not good for them, their digestive system is not designed to metabolize refined flour, preservatives, yeast or refined sugar AND yet bread to a swan is like lollies (candy) to a kid. They’ll gollop it down, the same is true for ducks.

Bread displaces the natural foods these birds should be eating. 
It’s very high in protein compared to a swan’s natural diet of water weeds. 
If they eat too much bread, for too long, they become weak and breed unhealthy young. 
If cygnets (baby swans) eat a lot of bread (or grains) they can experience a growth spurt causing their body to develop too quickly for their legs. 

They become plump to a point where they can barely stand or walk. Some develop a condition called ‘angel wing’ (pic ) 

where the feathers on one or both wings grow out sideways. Birds with angel wing will never fly and are often bullied and shunned by fellow swans. 
Swans, ducks, other water birds and domestic poultry can all develop angel wing from eating bread or being fed grains. 

Mould is Poison

If moldy bread is fed to swans or ducks it can kill them.

if you have to feed Swan Bread

they love bread - its candy 

only give small doses 
avoid white bread or any chemi based 
use brown with seeds 
DO NOT leave bread out in the sun - moldy / stale bread is a bacteria that is poisonous to their digestive system

Swans will not over-eat, but they can become dependent on a few repeat sources of the same food. Carina Norris, a nutritionist, said: "It seems swans have a diet high in vitamins from tadpoles and insects and these same vitamins won't be present in white bread in the same quantity.

"Anything with seeds in, such as wholemeal bread, would be better."

Eating behaviour 

You’ll notice that in the wild swans dip their head underwater. 
They do this to feed on the stems and roots of water weeds. 
These ‘green foods’ are a swan’s natural diet, supplemented by grasses on land and the occasional bug or insect.

I know that bread is very convenient and clearly swans and ducks love it, but to maintain good health they have to eat a natural diet, or foods that are close to their natural diet. 

Shredded lettuce, cast into the water, is a healthy food for most waterbirds, but if you want to do even better try the following mixture …

Rip up or shred some lettuce and add a little silver beet (not spinach).
Swans love fresh corn off the cob (or canned) and fresh peas (defrosted). 
You can also add a little grated carrot and chopped broccoli into the mix (no onions or garlic). 

Cast this mixture into shallows where the swans can reach it (not onto grass or the beach). 
Alternatively, fill a low bowl with clean water and drop in handfuls of the mixture. 
Sometimes swans will feed from a bowl but they often prefer the mixture to be scattered in shallow water. 
This nutritious ‘swan soup’ is good for swans and ducks. However, don’t feel disappointed if they turn up their nose and give you a look that says, ‘OK, where’s the bread?’ 

Persist because they will get used to it. You can add a small handful of millet or mixed grains (from a pet store) but the less grains the better.

It’s preferable not to feed wild birds at all, but if you insist it’s your responsibility to do the right thing and only give them food that’s ‘as close to natural’ as possible. 
That way they’ll grow into beautiful, healthy birds.

Nutritional imbalances

People are quick to criticise / condemn others for feeding junk food to wildlife and then think nothing about feeding junk food to their children  .. lol 

The Swan river pollution issues is killing some wildlife food source so wildlife evolves and takes on other food source

thats call evolution 
its it better to eat something although not ideal when food is scarce than to go without and die 

it's all about the balance and moderation 

However bread is like junk food and provides little nutritional value for swans. 
same as the junk food your give to your family 

Too much can lead to nutritional imbalances and life threatening complications. 
  • for swans its a condition called ‘angel wing’ has been attributed to artificial diets, which results in birds being unable to fly. 
  • Black swans (Cygnus atratus) are vegetarian feeding on algae and weeds which they obtain by plunging their long necks in up to 1m of water.
  • for humans junk food leads to diabetes - but they keep doing it 

Remember birds are much smaller than humans so even small portions of human food can be very unhealthy for them.

Spread of disease

When too much bread is offered to waterfowl it is not eaten. 
The leftover bread sinks causing nutrient pollution, which in turn leads to an increase in the soil bacteria that causes avian botulism. 

While there is no direct link between feeding bread to birds and botulism, it can add to conditions which make birds sick.

When water levels are low, the bacteria are concentrated, which causes infection when swans are plunging for food. 
Swans with botulism become paralysed, unable to eat and drown.

Do Swans die when their mate dies?

Swans have only one partner for their entire life. 
If their partner dies, they could in fact die of heartbreak. ... 
The scientists from Slimbridge found that swans, the members of monogamous species could pass away from a broken heart if their partner dies and they don't find any other partner unless they are widowed.

where to find them

Black Swans frequent lakes, rivers, estuaries and swamps. 
In the Swan Canning Riverpark, Black Swans are most commonly found in areas of shallow, vegetated foreshore and are also found in close proximity to seagrass meadows in the lower estuary. 
They live freely in ornamental lakes and ponds in cityscapes. 
For nesting, water levels, materials for building nests, proximity to feeding areas and freshwater (for young) are essential. 
Swans in the Swan Canning Riverpark show a preference for sheltered, vegetated sites with little or no access by dogs.

in recent years 


the masses were easily spotted at Millers Pool at Mill Point South Perth


in 2019 you will find them in greater numbers in mary places along the Swan river 

South Perth foreshore 

Perth foreshore 

Crawley Bay 

Nedlands - Pelican point sanctuary has a huge collection 

Ask the Pro

Local Swan river boat tours from Elizabeth Quay 

ask the local skippers as they are out on the tide every day 

Liz Quay boat charters 

15 min to 1 hour charter for single to 8 people 

fleet of 11 seater heritage boats on slow quite solar powered route from Liz Quay around to Claisebrook cove with stops along the way 

Jet Boat Eco tour and Dolphin spotting on the Swan river

Related topics

what we do 

Our Project: 

as we map places and create tourist info page we may also create a page on history

the history pages are slow to compile as it is not our priority, we welcome contributions



Places visited

Event date / locationEvent typeTitle / summaryVenue / hostPublication link
2021.02 Rottnest Island Thrill ride: Jet Boat extreme fun Thrill boat ride fbk grp wa tourism - video 
2020.11.14 Applecross Swan river twilight sunset sail  free outings with members South of Perth Yacht Club fbk page - pic vid 
2020.09.25 Perth cbd swan rover new floating pub  The Raft fbk page 
2020.10.27 South Perth day adventure History the tram  Ferry Tram Museum fbk group wa tourism 
2020.10.03 South Perth Sunset river walk  Mindeerup Piazza fbk page pics  
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