Mute swan (Cygnus olor) - local seasonal appearance

Based on 3 observations in Seymour township, Northumberland county, southeast Ontario, 1998-2013.

The mute swan, a very-large bird imported from Eurasia, is hard to miss. The male mute swan is the largest waterfowl in the world. The very limited occurrence of the swan as shown below is no doubt in some measure an artifact of the observers' lack of daily waterfront viewing on the largest local waterbodies. Nevertheless, it reflects the truism that a waterbird needs water, and no matter how hardy, must at the least move south to the shore of Lake Ontario in the winter. Like gulls, the swans can be found on open water on the Toronto harbourfront year-round, on Toronto Island, the Leslie Street Spit, Ashbridge's Bay, and other sites. Larger bodies of water are evidently preferred, though a sighting was made on little Trout Creek on 27 May 2000. In 2013, swans and other waterfowl with sighted on open water above Lock 13 on 13 January. Reported by others along the Trent in March, another sighting was made on the Crowe River on 6 April that year. In 2014, swans were seen at Presqu'ile during a visit on 19 April, but five weeks later we had not seen a single one in Trent Hills. Again, cottagers and fishermen who spend a lot of time along the Trent can probably tell a different tale.

View the complete 15-year (1999-2013) monthly data summary (438-kb pdf file).

At Presqu'ile provincial park, roughly 40 km to the south, the mute swan is present in variable numbers virtually year-round. Its cousin, the tundra swan is a rare spring migrant and occasional fall migrant (LaForest, 1993, pp.54-56). In Peterborough county, to the northwest, the mute swan is not common, but feral birds have been noted from 25 April to 19 December (Sadler, 1983, p.42).

The mute swan prefers to nest in cat-tail marshes, and is well habituated to human presence. Shoreline marshes along the north sides of lakes Erie and Ontario account for most of Ontario's feral swan population (Cadman et al., 1987, pp.62-63). In the revised Bird Breeding Atlas (Cadman et al., 2007, pp.64-65) the mute swan appears to be increasing gradually in number, and breeds at various sites around the Bay of Quinte and Prince Edward County.


Cadman,MD, Eagles,PFJ and Helleiner,FM (1987) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario. Federation of Ontario Naturalists and Long Point Bird Observatory, published by University of Waterloo Press, 617pp.

Cadman,MD, Sutherland,DA, Beck,GG, Lepage,D and Couturier,AR (editors) (2007) Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, 2001-2005. Bird Studies Canada, Environment Canada, Ontario Field Ornithologists, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ontario Nature, 706pp.

LaForest,SM (1993) Birds of Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Friends of Presqu'ile Park / Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 436pp.

Sadler,D (1983) Our Heritage of Birds: Peterborough County in the Kawarthas. Peterborough Field Naturalists / Orchid Press, Peterborough, ON, 192pp.

Graham Wilson, posted 26 May 2014

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