Cygnus atratus Click to enlarge image
Black Swan 7.7 Image: Greg Little
© Australian Museum

Fast Facts

  • Classification
    Species
    atratus
    Genus
    Cygnus
    Family
    Anatidae
    Order
    Anseriformes
    Class
    Aves
    Phylum
    Chordata
    Kingdom
    Animalia
  • Size Range
    120 cm to 142 cm

The Black Swan is the only entirely black-coloured swan in the world

Identification

In adult Black Swans the body is mostly black, with the exception of the broad white wing tips which are visible in flight. The bill is a deep orange-red, paler at the tip, with a distinct narrow white band towards the end. Younger birds are much greyer in colour, and have black wing tips. Adult females are smaller than the males.

Habitat

Black Swans prefer larger salt, brackish or fresh waterways and permanent wetlands, requiring 40 m or more of clear water to take off. Outside the breeding season, Black Swans travel quite large distances. Birds fly at night and rest during the day with other swans.

Distribution

Black Swans are found throughout Australia with the exception of Cape York Peninsula, and are more common in the south. The Black Swan has been introduced into several countries, including New Zealand, where it is now common, and is a vagrant to New Guinea.



Feeding and diet

The Black Swan is a vegetarian. Food consists of algae and weeds, which the bird obtains by plunging its long neck into water up to 1 m deep. Occasionally birds will graze on land, but they are clumsy walkers.

Life history cycle

Black Swans form isolated pairs or small colonies in shallow wetlands. They pair for life, with both adults raising one brood per season. Eggs are laid in an untidy nest made of reeds and grasses. The nest is placed either on a small island or floated in deeper water. The chicks (cygnets) are covered in grey down and are able to swim and feed themselves as soon as they hatch.

  • Breeding season: February to May in the north; June to September in the south.
  • Clutch size: Up to 10

References

  • Pringle, J.D. 1985. The Waterbirds of Australia. Angus and Robertson/National Photographic Index of Australian Wildlife, Sydney.