Mute swan Cygnus olor, cygnet on adult's back seeking shelter, Langford, Bedfordshire

Nesting and breeding habits

Read more about the nesting and breeding habits of mute swans.

Nesting habits

The male and the female birds, the cob and pen, usually attempt to mate for life, although it is not true to say that if one of the birds were to die the other would necessarily pine away. It is possible for an adult bird to find an alternative mate.  

The nest is a huge mound of material, normally dried grasses and assorted vegetation, sticks and rushes, constructed at the water's edge. The nest is built by the female, while the male supplies the materials. 

Mute Swan cygnet taking shelter in amongst its parent's feathers

Breeding timeline

The female lays up to seven eggs between late April and early May. Both sexes incubate the eggs, which hatch after 35-41 days. The young birds, or cygnets, sometimes ride on their parents' backs and remain with the adult birds for four or five months. Cygnets are generally dingy brown above and whitish below. Occasionally' cygnets may be all white and are known as 'Polish swans'. 

The young of some pairs are driven off the breeding territory as soon as their plumage is predominantly white (during late autumn or winter). Other broods often accompany their parents to the wintering area, and usually join a large flock in which they remain when the parents return to their breeding territory. Young birds will not generally breed for the first two years of adult life.

The oldest ringed wild mute swan was 15 years old.

Mute swan