Before Europeans reached Australia it was believed all swans were white so you can image the surprise when black swans were first discovered in 1697 in Western Australia at what is now the Swan River.
Finding a black swan was akin to discovering a unicorn. In 1973 the Black Swan became the bird emblem of Western Australia.
Swans are native to Australia and are more common in the south of the country and have also been introduced to New Zealand. They were highly prized as ornamental birds in the 1800s and escapees have formed wild populations in England and the US.
Swans have unique features with a bright red, white tipped bill and black feathers. They have a long neck almost a metre long and a two metre wing span. They weigh up to nine kilograms and utter musical and far reaching bugle-like sounds and whistles. When in flight they form a vee-shaped pattern known as a “wedge”.
A swan’s diet consists of aquatic plants and grass and they are found in large salt or fresh water permanent wetlands. The long neck gives allows them to feed from plants growing on the bottom of reasonably deep waterways. These birds are large waterfowl and heavy and require at least forty metres of space to gain the momentum to gain flight.
Black swans pair for life and build untidy nests of reeds and grasses on small islands or floated in deep water. The nest is reused each year and four to eight greenish eggs are laid and incubated by both parents. The cygnets stay with their parents for about nine months after hatching.
It is very interesting to note that almost 25 per cent of swan pairings are homosexual. The male pair obtains eggs by forming a threesome with a female for a while or stealing eggs by driving off the female. The cygnets are raised by both males.