This week is the last in our run of common urban birds, but it’s a big and dramatic example, and part of a group that has always capture our imaginations. It’s the Mute Swan.
The Mute Swan is *the* swan, the ‘type’ for the entire Genus. If you see a swan in the UK, especially in an urban setting, the chances are it will be a Mute.
Despite the name the Mute Swan does make some noise, but it is much quieter than other British swans such as the Bewick’s and the Whooper.
The swan is both graceful and elegant, but also a bit of a bruiser, the second largest waterfowl species in the world, and one of the heaviest flying birds. It’s always slightly surprising to see them in the air.
They have a reputation for aggression, and I’ve often encountered people who are afraid of them. It’s not unmerited, as they are incredibly territorial, especially in the breeding season. But given respectful distance they will not harm you, despite pervasive myths that they can break your arm. Bird bones are filled with air sacs to make them light for flight. If it hit you hard enough to break your arm, chances are it would permanently cripple itself in the process. The key with any animal is to read the signs, and swans will always hiss at you first. If that happens, back away and you’ll be fine.
The elegant pose with the neck curved and the wings raised, beautiful as it looks, is another threat gesture. This is more likely to be aimed at birds swimming on their territory, especially other swans. You’ll rarely see them in groups as a result, though the Nene in Peterborough usually has them in substantial numbers, spottable from the train.