Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)
The Black Swan is black except for the white outer flight feathers of the wings and the orange to dark red beak. Their white eye becomes red during breeding season. The cygnets (chicks) are covered with light grey down (soft feathers). Males grow to about 1.3 metres long and the females to 1.2 metres with slightly shorter necks than the males. They can be heard by their trumpet like call.
Predominantly living in the southeast and southwest of Australia, you will find them in lakes, rivers, esturies and swamps. For nesting it is essential for the black swan to have the right water levels, materials for building their nest, proximity to feeding areas and freshwater. Nests are constructed of mounds of vegetation on reeds, islands or in tall bushes near water.
Breeding may occur throughout the year but is often limited to February - March in the north and May - September in the south. They are ready to breed at 18 months of age. Younger birds may pair up for only a short time, breed, then desert the nest, leaving the other partner of either sex to care for the young, while older birds generally bond permanently with one partner. The Black Swan usually lay five to six pale green or dullish greeen-white eggs.
Black Swans primarily feed on submerged aquatic vegetation, invertebrate and graze on pasture close to the waters edge.
Black Swans are protected under the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Acts 1979. Due to their large numbers, they are listed as of least concern on the list of Threatened Species.
The Heritage of the Black Swans
In the days of the Dreamtime all swans were white. During that time, two swans rested on a lagoon, unaware that it belonged to the eagle-hawks. The eagle-hawks resented this intrusion, and savagely attacked the swans. Then they picked them up in their sharp, strong claws, and flew with them far to the south. Even while the swans were being carried away to this strange new land other eagle-hawks tore at their wounded bodies, plucking out still more feathers. Finally, the swans were dropped on the rocks of a stoney desert.
There, naked and almost dead, the swans heard the call of the black mountain-crows. They looked up and saw hundreds of them, either on the wing or struggling for places on the few branches of the desert trees. "The eagles are our enemies too'' , the crows called out, in their strange, croking voices. "But we wont let you die. We will send down on the breeze some of our feathers to keep you warm, and when you feel strong enough they will help you fly again." The torn-out white feathers of the wounded swans, taking root between the rocks on which they fell, grew into the dainty flannel flowers of the eastern Australian coast, and the blood of the birds was transformed into the blossoms of the scarlet heath.
Ever since that day all Australian swans, except for a few white feathers on their wings, have feathers as black as the crows which clad their nakedness and helped them to fly again.