With it being Valentine’s Day it’s time to look at love in the animal kingdom. Mating is seen as a biological imperative for many species with there being little room for emotion. There are some animals like swans who are known to mate for life and have a reputation for being mythical lovers. It’s said that a swan only sings when their partner is dying but the reality is different.
Swans do mate for life, which is unusual for bird species. The pair raise a family of cygnets over and over, learning from their mistakes each time. Their loyalty to each other is a strategy for maximising the number of cygnets they can raise together.
Courtship isn’t the romantic dance of two swans curving their necks silently into an entwined heart. Their ‘dance’ is a mixture of hissing and grunting sounds, performed by all six swan species. Whooper and Whistling swans are known to call softly to each other while Australian black swans have special feathers for attracting mates. The loudest are the North American trumpeter swans who honk and perform synchronised swimming.
Staying together is beneficial for swans because it saves time and energy during migration. Bewick’s swans fly for a long time to reach their breeding grounds in Russia so they don’t have time to search for new mates.
However, there are instances of swans ‘divorcing’ each other after a bad breeding season or nesting failure. The only species of swan that will ‘cheat’ on their partner are female Australian black swans. One in seven eggs reared by a male black swan won’t be his because the female has mated with a different swan in case she can’t have offspring with her parter.
Seeing swans together can be romantic, but like any relationship there may be more than meets the eye.