Mute swan (Cygnus olor) - local seasonal appearance

Based on 6 observations in Seymour township, Northumberland county, southeast Ontario, June 1998- February 2021.

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 huge white waterbird is very graceful, with a long, curved neck, and an orange bill with a black knob at the base. The mute swan is a Eurasian species, first introduced to North America in the late 1800s, as an ornamental feature of parks and estates. It did not become established in the wild until after releases in New York state in 1910 and 1912 (Levine, 1998, pp.147-148), after which it spread gradually, including north along the Hudson river valley. It may be notably aggressive in the breeding season. It may not compete directly with native waterfowl for food, since they may feed on different plants at different depths. However, it may be intolerant of other waterfowl near its nests. The species is basically sedentary (non-migratory), thus it tends to stay near the Great Lakes with year-round access to open water. Perhaps in keeping with the swan's aggressive reputation, the rafts of waterfowl noted on the Brighton waterfront in summer tend to be segregated, the Canada geese and the mute swans occupying their own "public spaces" in the bay.

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, if they do not stay there year-round. 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 at 0800 hrs on Trout Creek, a modest tributary of the Trent river, on 27 May 2000. This was one swan, in the company of two Canada geese. In 2013, swans and other waterfowl were sighted on open water near and upstream of Lock 13 on 13 January. The waterfowl included 8 swans (the two nearest definitely mute swans), 2 nearby Canada geese, and in midriver 16 common goldeneye, 8 male and 8 female, diving as and when the mood took them. More swan sightings were made north of town, closer to the confluence with the Crowe river, during March (no details: these are acknowledged on the chart by a "half-sighting"). On 06 April that year, one swan was noted with hooded merganser and bufflehead, near the power dam north of town.

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. This is normal in and near the town, and on the narrower parts of the waterway. Again, cottagers and fishermen who spend a lot of time along the Trent can probably tell a different tale.

The sightings in this compilation were all in January-May. These include 3 later reports, by three different authorities. Two sightings of a trio of swans in February 2018 were probably of the same group. Near noon, on 20 February 2021, a loose formation of 10 or so swans was seen by C.R. in the northeast corner of the township, just north of Stanwood.

View the complete 22-year (1999- Feb. 2021) monthly data summary (224-kb pdf file).

The mute swan is a rare permanent resident in the wider Kingston region to the southeast, where it was first noted in 1963 (at Consecon Lake, in western Prince Edward county: Weir, 1989, p.70). At Presqu'ile provincial park, roughly 40 km to the south of us, the first sightings were in 1964. The mute swan is present in variable numbers virtually year-round. This stands in sharp contrast to our river setting, which in a typical summer is busy with boat traffic. Its cousin, the tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus 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.

Levine,E (editor) (1998) Bull's Birds of New York State. Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, revised version, 622pp.

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

Weir,RD (1989) Birds of the Kingston Area. Quarry Press, 608pp. plus map.

Graham Wilson, posted 26 May 2014, updated 27-28 February, 01 March 2021

Township Bird List

Local Info

Contents Page