A site dedicated to the proper care and general information of mute swans

Feeding Adult Swans – Captive Swans Need to be Fed

January 20th, 2015 | Posted by LadyNerkle1 in Feeding Adult Swans - Captive Swans Need to be Fed

BIG Beautiful, Graceful Swans are a Delight to Behold.

Once we Pinion or Clip to Ground them,
they depend on their Caretakers to Provide a Healthy Diet.
Captive Swans are Domestic Pets.

Feeding Swans
Click on Images to Enlarge


This information is basic and a work in progress.
I will be Adding to the Content as Time Allows .

Over the Years I have heard “Swans are Wild Waterfowl.
Nature will Provide. They will find the food they need and do not need supplemental feed. ”

Captive Mute Swans

This misconception seems to come from various sources..
Some Breeders may live in areas where there is year round food materials in their Pond.  Lots of Plant growth, Insects, Tadpoles, Worms, Snails, Grubs, etc.  They pass this information on to others without looking at the BIG Picture.

Natural Creek

The remaining Feral Mute Swans living in the United States will, on average, have a Territory Range of 3 to 5 SQUARE Miles that they will access for their nutritional needs. In warmer States there may be plenty of vegetation, grains and insects year round.

Migrating Tundra Swans

This is why the Canadian Tundra and Trumpeter Swans migrate during the Fall to areas they know will provide food for themselves and their growing Cygnets.

Mute Swans in Winter

Mute Swans are NOT migratory Waterfowl.. They will stay in their territory year round their entire adult life, unless something significant changes for them… loss of habitat, loss of a mate…
chronic harassment.  Mute Swan will fly/move to open water in Winter months if their normal Water Environment freezes.

Their absence during Nesting Season may cause some Folks to think the Mute Swans have migrated. Feral-Wild Mute Swans will generally seek a more private location to Nest.

Mute Swans Nesting

For whatever reason: “Mute Swans do not Nest where they Live, and they do not Live where they Nest.”

For two months, Feral Mute Swans will likely find a private place to Mate, Nest and Hatch their Brood of Cygnets. The location may only be a half mile or so away from their normal range. They are likely to return to their normal territory once their Nest is “Closed” for the Season.

Mute Swan Nest

In the parts of the Country where Winter Climate causes plant material to become dormant, Feral Mute Swans will have a much harder time finding satisfactory food. If they are caring for first year Cygnets.. this may cause the smaller Cygnets to weaken and die from starvation.

Mute Swans Winter

I have watched Feral Mute Swans attempt to eat the decaying vegetation and leaves they find in shallow water; the same plants that provided food during the warmer seasons. This organic material will have some small food value, there may be a few calories left in the decaying fibers.

Hungry Waterfowl will pick at field and lawn grasses attempting to find some calories.. something to fill their Gizzard. During warm weather, lawn and field grasses will yield tasty insects.

When there is Snow Cover on lawns and fields, they will not even have this meager food source.

All living Creatures can live for a period of time without adequate food, as long as they have water to drink.  Swans living on Ponds/Lakes have water.. but, food may be very scarce.

Swans are warm blooded Creatures, they have a metabolism like all warm blooded Creatures. When food is limited or absence they will slow down, try to conserve and convert their body fat, muscle proteins – losing weight the same as any Animal or Human.

Wild/Free Waterfowl will generally fly in search of food. Pinioned/Captive/Fenced Waterfowl that are starving will become increasingly desperate and will eat increasing amounts of mud and soft topsoil. There are some organic materials in mud and topsoil… hopefully a few dormant insect grubs, worms, snails, etc.

If this goes on too long, the Gizzard may become “sand bound.” Topsoil and mud contains silica/sand.

Sand feels gritty when rubbed between the fingers.
Birds/Waterfowl regularly ingest small amounts of grit to aid digestion of the food in their Gizzard. Eating small amounts of dirt, mud is normal. When digestible food is absent for long periods of time, the Gizzard may become “sand bound.”

Once this happens there is no room for digestible food…. death from Starvation will likely follow.
Sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles. The composition of sand is highly
variable, depending on the local rock sources and conditions. The most common constituent of sand in inland continental settings and
non-tropical coastal settings is silica (silicon dioxide, or SiO2), usually in the form of quartz. Sand is not digestible. It will pass through a bird’s digestive system along with the plant fiber of their normal diet.
Until now, I was referring to Feral Mute Swans living in a 3-5 square miles range.

Next, I want to discuss Captive Swans living in the care of Human Caretakers.  Living in a much smaller Environment.

Captive Mute Swans

Captive Swans are no different then Pet Dogs, Cats, Horses, etc.  They need to EAT.

All Animals and Birds we bring into our lives are subject to a wide range of care. From the total care of Pets that become cherished members of our Family life, to Farm Live Stock raised for their Meat, Milk, Eggs, etc.   ..To the sad neglected, forgotten, discarded, abused animal cruelty cases we see on various TV Animal Rescue Programs.

Folks who have appropriate Water Environments to care for Swans, may desire to have them for various reasons. Not all People will take the time to research Swans so they are prepared to provide appropriate care.

Swan Poor Diet

The Swans I worry about are ones chosen to be living Lawn Ornaments. The striking beauty of graceful Swans will enhance any property. The novelty of having Swans may pass and neglect is likely to follow. Swans are a commitment. They may easily live 25-35 years or longer with good care and some luck.

If you tire of their care, re-home them to another interested Person. NEVER release a Swan into the environment. NEVER..
It is illegal all across the United States and Canada to deliberately release a Mute Swan or their growing Cygnets. Discarded Pet Swans will likely be destroyed.

Discarded Pet Swan            This Gentle Swans was Shot a Hunter in 2008.

There are so many different Regulation governing the Ownership of Mute Swans from State to State, You will need to check the Codes, Policies and Rules for your State..
Where to Find Mute Swan Information for Your State

“Can Animal Rights Be Legally Defined?”
In 1978 the HSUS, Humane Society of the United States defined Animal Rights.
“Animals have the right to live and grow under conditions that are comfortable and reasonably natural.  Aanimals that are used by man in any way have the right to be free from abuse, pain, and torment caused or permitted by man. Animals that are domesticated or whose natural environment is altered by man have the right to receive from man adequate food, shelter, and care.”

Pinioned Mute Swan

Pinioning any Waterfowl… changes everything.
In the U.S. Swans “Owned” by Humans are generally pinioned to restrict their ability to roam at large.
They are Classified as:
Captive, Domestic, Exotic, Poultry. (Not Wild)
Like ALL Animals and Birds living in Captivity.
They are entitled to:     1. Adequate and Appropriate Food
–                                        2. Adequate Fresh Water
–                                        3. Appropriate Shelter
–                                        4. Reasonable Safety from Harm
–                                        5. Veterinary Care when needed.

The first rule for keeping Swans in the location you want them…. is
–                             #1. “Feed them and they will Stay.”

Feeding Your Swans is not a Guarantee they will stay on your Pond. Adequate Food is a BIG Part of their Comfort.

Swans on a Private Pond are somewhere between Captive and Free. They do NOT Read the Books about their expected Behavior.
Swans will have many Surprises as you enjoy their Beauty and learn about them.

Mother Nature has evolved Birds/WaterFowl to be able to do some amazing things. Living without Food is not one..

Imagine watching these Captive, Graceful Birds, unable to tell their Caretakers that they are Hungry. Respect and Good Care will allow Swans to enjoy living with us/you for a long time.

Swan Diet

Spread the WORD…. Swans need to Eat.

Living on a totally natural One Acre Pond with NO Chemicals altering the Plant Growth and Insects is recommended for one Pair of Adult Mute Swans.

Natural Rural Pond

The uses of Lawn Care Products, Insect Controls and Fertilizers changes the Natural Balance. Underwater plants may not be sufficient, the lack of Insects will impact Protein and Calcium resources. Fertilizers and Animal Waste Run-off will create Organic changes to a Pond/Lake allowing for a wide variety of unwanted Plant growth. Big Subject…. LOTS of variations.

Waterfowl/Swans may be able to help control some nuisance Plants.. like Algae, Duckweed and Watermeal.. but, they still need other nutrients in their year round diet.

Pond Watermeal Duckweed

Mute Swans can live a very long time with good care. The less they need to dig in the mud/dirt for nutrition, the less chance they will acquire Parasites. During warm dry months, stagnant muddy water will put Waterfowl at risk of fatal Clostridia bacteria.

Providing a Container of Fresh Clean Water would seem helpful… But, Waterfowl will still Drink the Pond/Lake Water.

Mute Swan Mud

It is BEST to avoid Bread. DO NOT ALLOW others to feed your Swans Bread. There is little to no nourishment in white Bread for Waterfowl. White Bread is poorly digested, causing indigestion and bloating. Yeast may grow in the Gizzard causing chronic digestion problems. Bread is high in sugar and salt taxing the birds’ kidneys and other organs. During the Summer months Bread is a dangerous food for Waterfowl.

Molds growing on Bread may be fatal. Some molds will cause fatal “Limber Neck” disease. Once the toxic mold is in the Swan, there is very little you can do to reverse these debilitating toxic secretions. The mortality rate is very high. The Swan becomes weak, can not hold their Neck up.. become limp.

If they are in the Water, they may drown. On Land, the weakness will affect their ability to breathe.

The Hazards of feeding BREAD to Swans/Waterfowl

If YOU want to feed them Bread, then ONLY during Cold Winter months (Fall Frost to Last Spring Frost). Buy FRESH, Freeze and Feed one slice per day of coarse grain or wholemeal Bread with seeds and grains incorporated into the Bread is a better option. The grain seeds give them some extra oils, which aid the absorption of Fat Soluble Vitamins – like Vitamin A, C, D, E, K, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, B12, folic acid, …all important for good health.

If you Enjoy having Swans, the BEST thing you can do for them is provide a wide variety of food items.

A good commercial:
**NON-Medicated **Poultry Maintenance Feed
–                                  Mixed to keep the Protein Level LOW.
We have been using **Southern States 18% Waterfowl Floating Pellets for over a Year. Good Usage – Little Waste.

Floating Waterfowl Pellets

Keep the Lysine level LOW – Less the 1%
Avoid Yeast, Sugar and Salt.

Swans will need more Supplemental Food during Cold Weather.
Depending on the Winter conditions, Swans will need more Calories when they are subject to Winter’s Cold Temperatures. They need daily Food for the Quick Energy Calories to keep Warm.

Swans are Grazers not Gobblers. They naturally eat small amounts throughout the day. Since they are programmed to fly, they will not over eat. Every extra ounce their body does not need will make flight more difficult. When their diet is not balanced, they may over eat starchy grains, trying to get the minerals and vitamins their body’s are craving.

Mute Swans Grazing

The Bone Structure of Birds is a light-weight scaffolding. There is just enough minerals to form rigid bone.

Female Swans need extra Calcium Rich Feeds. Females give-up Calcium to coat their large Eggs. Once the Cygnets hatch, the Female may ingest the Shells to reclaim some of this Calcium.

If the Female is not able to eat these Shells due to some loss of the Eggs – flooding, spoiling, egg predation or management removal
she will benefit from your help.

To help supply her needs, it is a very good practice to start, in January, adding some Egg Layer Feed to the regular Feed Mix.
The Eggs she lays will be stronger and she will not need to sacrifice as much Calcium from her body.

Once her Cygnets hatch, the Female Swan is HUNGRY for everything. A Good Balanced Feed Mix, with some extra Calcium, will help her body recover from the five long weeks of “Sitting” with very little to eat.

Swans are Grazers.. they Nibble all day.

Because their neck is long and slender, Swans like to have water with every bite to make swallowing easier.

Mute Swans Grazing

When Food-Feed is only available once or twice a day. shared from a tub or bucket for assorted Waterfowl, a Swan will Gobble in a hurry knowing there will be nothing until the bucket was filled the next day. This is not normal eating behavior for a Swan. This is the way Ducks and Geese eat.. they are Gobblers.
Try to find a Way to feed your Swans so they do not need to leave the Water. They are SAFEST in the Water.
Swans WANT Water with their Feed-Food.

Feed Swan in Water
Try to Find a Place you will be SAFE Servicing their Food in the Winter.
Some Feeding Ideas. Things to think about.
Nice to vary feeding for the Swans…

Swan Vegetarian
In addition to a Healthy Feed Mixture remember Swans are Vegetarians.

Swans are Vegetarians

They like Fresh Cut “Untreated” Grass.. put out into the Pond.

Swan Fresh Grass
Grass floats and they can graze on it. Not enough to clog Drains or Spillways.. but, maybe a Gallon or so… just be sure the Mower Bag does NOT contain any MOLD..

Lettuce Play – “Let-Us-Play”

Swans Lettuce

If you toss a Head of Lettuce in the Pond..
they will Play with it like a Soccer Ball.
Fun to Watch them take turns, biting the Head and Tossing it About.

*** Swans are VERY Sensitive to METAL.
Best NOT to Store Feed in a Metal Container, unless it is Lined with
a HEAVY Plastic Bag.. or Kept in the Original Feed Bag.

Swan Lead Zinc

Galvanized Feed Container can contaminate Feed with LEAD and ZINC.

Keep any small Metal Items Picked-Up. Swans, like other Waterfowl, will Ingest small Stones for their Gizzards.
If they ingest a Screw, Nut, Nail Piece of Wire, a Coin, Soda Can Tab, Bread Twist Tie, etc.         This will become a Fatal Snack.

The Metal will stay in their Gizzard and slowly Dissolve.
Your Swan will become Heavy Metal Toxic..
Destroying their Liver and other Organs.
Heavy Metal Poisoning is VERY Difficult to Treat.

Use Clean Dedicated Polyvinyl Containers for Feed Safety.

Every Pond-Lake Situation is Different.
Feeding your Swans can be a Challenge. Brain Storm.

Canadian Geese Pond
If you have a Canadian Goose Problem. They will Raid the Feed.

Ducks Clean-up

Wild Duck can be Helpful as the Clean-up Crew for Feed Spillage.
Fixed Feeders like the Aut-O-Dine have some draw-backs and some advantages.
Swan Feeder

If the Pond Water Level drops, it will be difficult for the Swans to reach in.  OR if the Water Level rises, the Geese will enjoy a feast.

One EASY FEED STATION is to use an Old Tire. (Pick a Nice One.)
AND a Clean Five Gallon Bucket.
(Take the Handle Off – Tangle Hazard.)

Tire Bucket Feeder
Angle the Bucket as needed for the Swans to Eat from.
There is a Good Chance the Geese and Ducks will not be able to Reach into the Bucket.

Tire Bucket Feeder

The Bucket is Easy to Clean.. and it can be Taken in at Night,
so you are not Attracting Raccoons and other Rodents.
Mice, Rats, Voles, Moles, Muskrats; may attract small Carnivores like Weasels and Mink.

An Aut-O-Dine Feeding Box for Swans – Polyvinyl
Canadian Geese can not Feed from this Feeder.

Aut-O-Dine for Swans
Average Cost Varies Year to Year – One Time investment
Needs a stable Post to be mounted on..
These need several Modification to work for Swans.

THE FOLLOWING FEED MIX IS FOR Swan Cygnets at least 4-6 months old or older.
THERE IS NO COMMERCIAL BAG FEED in the United States that is Formulated for Swans. You need to Mix for a Healthy Diet.

At one Pond we visited, the Swan was being fed Floating Fish Pellets.  The Protein Level is 30-40% WAY TO HIGH ! !

Swan Fish Pellets

*** Always ask for “UNMEDICATED/UNTREATED” Commercial Feed & Corn   Very Important.
***DO NOT FEED THE SWANS ANY FEED with “GROWER” in the name.
***DO NOT FEED THE SWANS “Game Bird Feed”

The Lysine Levels are too HIGH… 
These feeds are designed to increase the muscle tissue
and are for Poultry fowl headed to someone’s dinner table.
These feeds damage internal organs, shortening the natural life span of a Swan. Many birds fed these products will die in 12-36 months.

Lysine Feed

Keep the Lysine Level at 1.00% or Less.

The unnatural increased muscle tissue will add stress to the Swan’s
legs and feet. This will increase the risk of painful “bumble” foot sores. The Swans may look BIG and HEALTHY.. but, they are not healthy.

Lysine Feed

***UnCaring Breeders may feed these “Grower” Feeds… without regards to the long term health of the Swans. They just want the Cygnets to grow fast, look BIG and healthy when they sell the young Swan Cygnets. Sadly, the damage is done. They many only live a few years.

Female Swan Died

*** The Commercial Feed Mix we use is:
Mixture of: Southern States 18% Waterfowl Pellets
(OR Southern States Poultry Maintainer Feed)
These Feed Product provide Vitamins, Minerals, Etc.Floating Waterfowl PelletsSouthern States Whole Dried Corn
*** CORN is not a Complete Diet… It is an Supplement.

Commercial Bag Corn

The Following can be added as a Treat: About 10%
Scratch Mixes – Cracked Corn, Wheat, Barley
Crimped Oats, Alfalfa, Rye Grass Seed

Start-n-Grow for Cygnets

**Southern States Start-n-Grow for the young Cygnets
( OR Crumble – Specialty Poultry Feed)
This Product has an Antibiotic that will cause Chronic Diarrhea, Malabsorption and the Death of many of the Cygnets.
This is Formulated to help Poultry Chicks.


*** FOR SWANs and CYGNETs over 4-6 Months Old.
*** MIX Bag Feed so the Protein % is between 6-8%

60% Whole Dry Corn
40% 18% Waterfowl Pellets
(OR All Grain Poultry Feed Maintainer).

Whichever you choose mix to the Protein Level of ** 6-8% **

Feed Mix for Swans

The Protein percentage of U.S. Poultry Feed
–                     is TOO HIGH for SWANs.

Duck, Geese, Turkeys all tolerate Protein levels up to 15-20%
***Swans average daily Protein should not exceed 6-8%.

Adjust the Feed Mix by mixing Whole Dry Corn or Scratch Mix.
Adding Lots of Vegetable-Plant Material helps to keep the daily Protein level down.

Feeding Swans

Young Swan Cygnets can develop tendon slipage from a High Protein diet. This can result in “Angel Wing” deformity.
With diet adjustment and a little luck this can be corrected before a young Swan is 18-24 months old. (A little Body Banding may Help.)

A High Protein diet will cause a Fatty Liver- Lipidosis to
develop.  May damage the Swan’s kidneys, both which will eventually be fatal.

Most Extruded Poultry Feeds dissolve sitting in water.
It is more efficient when using these products to place the mixture in a container/bowl.

Bowl For Swan Feed

Any Feed put out for Swans should be checked daily.
In the Summer it spoils very easily if it gets wet.
Spoiled/Soured Feed can make a Swan very sick.

Rainy Day Corn
If it is going to rain… I only put Whole Corn out.
In Cold weather spoiling is not as much a Problem.

The Floating Waterfowl Pellets will Float for over 24 Hours.
There is very little Waste.   ( YEAH ! )

Crimped Oats Float

(Adding a little Crimped Oats is a floating treat.)


Add a Tablespoon of Corn Oil to the Winter Feed Mixture.

Around Mid-January consider starting Feed formulated for Egg Layers. Mix a Cup into the Daily ration.

Crushed Boiled Egg Shells

I save my Hard Boiled Egg Shells.. and Crush them. I add a Tablespoon to a Gallon of Feed Mix. When I see white Calcium in their Poop, I know I have added enough.

Poop Tells its own Story. Learn what Normal Swan Poop Looks like.
It varies GREATLY with their Diet.
Occasionally, look for any signs of Parasite.
Watch for Persistent Wet Sloppy Waste – Diarrhea.  ???
There are MANY possibilities.
Check with your Veterinarian.. see if they will do a Stool Work-up.
Sample needs to be Fresh. Their Lab. will give you instruction.

Crimped Oats Float

I have started to add a small amount of Crimped Oats to the Corn tossed into the water. It floats and is nice for the Swans to graze. This is not practical where a current just carries the Oats away.

Swans are very messy, wasteful eaters.

Feeding Winter Swans

They need 30% more food during Cold Weather Months.
If there is a small amount left after 24 hours, they are getting enough.

This Information is a Work in Progress…..
As I learn more I will add to this information..
Compiled by (C) L.M.Sweger October 2016
These Commercial Feed Prices are an Average
for 2015-2016 
In Central Pennsylvania.

Average/General Cost of Commercial Feed Products
Aug. 2012

Quotes from Davis Agway in Mechanicsburg.
40 Pounds
– Southern States 18% Floating Waterfowl Pellets $ 14.00
50 Pounds – Mazuri Waterfowl Maintenance $ 40.00
Mazuri Waterfowl Feed has been Popular for many Years.

Mazuri Waterfowl Feed
50 Pounds – Poultry Maintainer (unMedicated) $ 15.00

Feed for Swans
50 Pounds – Scratch (Cracked Corn & Wheat) $ 15.00
50 Pounds – Crimped Oats $ 16.75
50 Pounds – Whole Corn (shelled) $ 14.00

50 Pound of Crumble for the Cygnets $ 16-17.00
25 Pound Southern States Start-n-Grow for Tiny Cygnets $ 8.00
Average Annual Usage for Two Adult Mute Swans

2 – Bags of Poultry Maintainer $ 30.00
2 – Bags of Waterfowl Floating Pellets $ 30.00
1 – Bags of Scratch $ 15.00
1 – Bag of Crimped Oats $ 17.00
2 – Bags of Whole Shell Corn $ 27.00
Addition Expenses if there are Cygnets in the Spring.
2 – 25 Pound Start-n-Grow for Cygnets       $30.00
1 – 50 Pound of Crumble for the Cygnets $ 16-17.00

Healthy Pinioned Cygnets 6-10 months old can be SOLD for:
$100 – 150 – 200 – 350.00
Depends on the Number available for Sale.


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