Where did the City of Ottawa get its swans?
In 1967, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II gifted the City of Ottawa, Canada's capital, with six pairs of Mute (Royal) swans. Her Majesty's gift was in celebration of Canada's 100th birthday.
Which species do we have in Ottawa?
Ottawa has two species of swans living on the Rideau River: one is called a Mute (Royal, white) swan and the other is called an Australian Black swan. The scientific name for the Mute swan is cygnus olor and for the Australian Black swan is cygnus atratus. The first pair of Australian Black swans was received from a trade with the Montreal Zoo in 1974.
Swans can live for over thirty years if they are well cared for. Swans mate for life but, may accept a new mate if the other dies. A male swan is called a cob. A female is called a pen. Baby swans are called cygnets. Swans can lay up to eight eggs but, the average clutch size is five.
Swans usually sleep at night, and will rest from time to time during the day. When asleep or resting, they lay with their necks across their backs and their heads under one wing. This resting posture is often mistaken for an injury.
Where do the swans live?
The swans can be seen on the Rideau River anywhere from Carleton University to the Cummings Bridge. Each pair of swans has its own "favourite" area where it lives for the spring and summer months. Swans prefer to nest in private areas that are surrounded by tall grass or brush and that are not easily accessible to predators and people. They want to protect their cygnets, or brood, from harm.
The swans are removed from the River in the fall - late October or early November - to live at Parc Safari in Hemmingford Quebec until May, or so, of the following year. The swans used to be housed at a wintering facility (known as the “Swan House”) located at the City’s Leitrim Nursery, but this building had reached its end of life. In October 2015, City staff entered into a Winter Facility Care Agreement for the swans with Parc Safari. There, each pair of swans has its own indoor pen with a resting area and a swimming pool, and its own outdoor pen. The swans enjoy the outdoors, even in winter. They must be wintered off the River not because of the cold but, because there is not enough open water, which they require in order to sift their food. In consideration of the health of the swans, their wintering facility is not open to the public.
What do swans eat?
While on the Rideau River, the swans eat the plants that grow in and around the River. They are often fed bread and other "people food" by well-meaning citizens but, "greens" such as lettuce, spinach and alfalfa sprouts are much better for them. The swans must compete for food with ducks, gulls and other birds while on the River.
The swans' winter diet is quite different from their summer diet because they cannot forage for naturally-occurring plant material in their winter home. There, they are fed a grain-based ration called "Duck Grower" and are provided "greens", like lettuce, each day.
Do they have any predators?
Uncontrolled dogs, raccoons, and fox are their most common predators. Large fish and snapping turtles may prey on very young swans. Much like Canada geese, the swans use their very strong wings to fend off unwelcome visitors.
Why are their wings clipped?
The City's swans cannot fly because they are pinioned, meaning that the primary feathers of one wing have been permanently clipped. The primary feathers are the long feathers furthest from the bird's body without which a bird cannot fly. The Canadian Wildlife Service, the federal agency that sets the regulations concerning the keeping of such birds and gives the City the permit which allows it to keep them, requires that the swans be pinioned so that they do not migrate and disturb other North American bird populations. That the swans are pinioned is also one of the reasons that they must be removed from the River for the winter as they cannot fly south like other migratory birds.
Is it safe to touch the swans?
It is not safe to touch the swans. Even though they cannot fly, they are in a semi-wild state and it is best that people enjoy them from a distance just as one would any other wild animal or bird. It is, in fact, unlawful to disturb the swans and/or their young, including eggs. The swans are protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
Where can I get more information about the City's Royal Swan Program?
For any additional information on the Royal Swan Program, please contact Laila Gibbons, at 613-580-2424, ext. 23988.