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Thursday, Oct. 28, 2004


Mute swan

* Japanese name: Kobuhakucho
* Scientific name: Cygnus olor
* Description: At 145-160 cm long, the mute swan is one of the largest and heaviest birds in Japan. Almost entirely white, it has a long, S-shaped neck, and an orange bill with black at its base. The male (known as the cob) weighs 10-12 kg, the female (the pen) 8-10 kg. Though not exactly mute, the mute swan doesn't have the most beautiful of singing voices. In fact, the only noise you are likely to hear is a menacing hiss if it is angry. As it passes overhead, you might hear the throbbing "waou, waou" of their giant 2-meter wingspan wings making a noise almost like a helicopter. Cygnets are gray (with a gray-pink bill) when they hatch, turning brown over the first six months as they learn to fly. Full white plumage and orange bill develops at sexual maturity.
* Where to find them: From Hokkaido down through northern Honshu to the Kanto plain. Immature birds and those too old to mate (they live up to 24 years) often form flocks. Mute swans can be seen on lakes and slow-flowing rivers.
* Food: Water plants and invertebrates like insects and snails.
* Special features: In Britain, all wild swans are officially the property of the Queen, and also of two private livery companies, set up in the 15th century. Swan was once considered a delicacy and served at feasts in England. Mute swan males form territories, the sizes of which are determined by the amount of food in the area. If there are lots of water plants (and hence lots of food), swans may nest close together. But if there is territorial encroachment, neighboring swans may dispute each other's territory, resulting in a fight. And between such massive, powerful birds, fights can be dangerous, sometimes resulting in death (usually by drowning). Sweetly, male and female swans tend to form pairs a year or so before sexual maturity, and then remain with the same partner for life. There have been reports of "mourning" when a partner dies. However, a pair bond will sometimes be broken if a stronger male displaces a weaker one and takes his female.

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