Mute swan chicks, Massapequa Preserve, Long Island, New York, USA
© Vicki Jauron/Getty Image
These young mute swans, called cygnets, are sheltered under their mother’s tail feathers in Massapequa Preserve on Long Island, New York. Mute swans, despite their name, make a variety of sounds such as grunts, snorts and whistles but are less vocal than other species of swans. The popular phrase ‘swan song’, comes from the mistaken belief that swans are silent until the end of their lives, when they sing a beautiful song. Cygnets have dark beaks and grey under-plumage, but as they grow older, they'll develop snow-white feathers and an orange beak, as well as those long, looping necks swans are famous for. Male swans, or cobs, can weigh over 13 kilograms, making them one of the heaviest flying birds in the world.
Mute swans are devoted lovers. They tend to pair for life and remain monogamous, sharing duties of maintaining a nest and caring for their young. Swan pairs aggressively defend each other and even mourn dead mates. It’s no wonder we’ve come to view them as symbols of enduring love.