What to feed baby swans

What Do Swans Eat? 18 Foods They’ll Consume

More Great Content:

Swans are interesting creatures. They are simultaneously famous as a symbol of love as lifelong mates, but they also have a reputation for being aggressive when it comes to defending their nests. Although the swan’s large size gives them an advantage over many other avian creatures, they are not birds of prey that will swoop down on other creatures. Swans are actually herbivorous. With that in mind, we must ask: what do swans eat?

These creatures mostly live in very active biomes comprising lakes, ponds, marshes, and other freshwater areas that are not frequently disturbed. Living in places with such diverse lifeforms puts swans in contact with a variety of potential meals.

Take a look at the foods they are most like to consume, how they find them, and what they need to worry about in the wild.

What Foods Do Swans Eat?

Swans eat water plants, grasses, algae, insects, and mollusks.

©A-Z-Animals. com

Swans eat algae, small fish, frogs, worms, fruits, grass, and sometimes insects. Swans are mostly herbivorous birds, so only a small portion of their diet includes insects, mollusks, and other sea creatures. Swans spend time on land and in water, and they find food in both environments.

Take a look at the most common foods that swans will eat when they are seeking a meal:

  • Beetles
  • Snails
  • Worms
  • Algae
  • Pondweed
  • Wild celery
  • Coontail
  • Water striders
  • Mosquitos
  • Dragonflies
  • Cracked corn
  • Common waterweed
  • Muskgrass
  • Grain
  • Wheat
  • Wild Rice
  • Arrowhead
  • Blueberries
  • Freshwater shrimp

Although swans are often referred to as just another herbivore, their diets include some rather unusual elements. They will mostly eat aquatic vegetation because it is very abundant near their native areas. It is easy for them to find a wide variety of plants just by grazing in their local environment in ponds and lakes and around it.

Yet, as the list states, they will seek out foods common to other birds at other times. They eat insects as young, growing swans and turn to wild berries and hearty vegetables when they are available in the winter.

These creatures are very adaptive to adverse conditions.

How Do Swans Find Food?

Swans will use their sight to find food and then eat it directly or use up-ending to get it.


Swans are interesting birds for many reasons, but their behavior when looking for a meal is most remarkable. The most common way that swans find food is by grazing on land, where they will obtain suitable food by using their sense of sight which exceeds their capabilities for smelling foods.  

When swans find food they like, they’ll use their serrated beaks, not to be confused with teeth, to clamp down and sever plants for consumption. By doing so, they can easily tear off portions of plants and quickly grasp insects.  

Since they spend a lot of time on the water, swans do feed when they are paddling along. The way they find food on the water is more interesting than the typical means they use on land. When they spot a plant that they wish to consume beneath the water, swans will start up-ending.

Up-ending is when they dive into the water leaving their feet and posterior exposed and use their long necks to reach down and grab the food they want. Although this leaves them briefly open to attack, it’s an effective way of obtaining foods that few other waterfowl can successfully replicate, owing to their relatively short necks.  

What Do Baby Swans Eat?

Baby swans eat insects to start, but they start eating plants within a month of hatching.


Swans often mate for life, and they build large nests to house their young. These nests can be up to 2 feet high and 6 feet across. Unlike other birds that are somewhat helpless when they are young, the baby swan, called a cygnet, only needs a day or two to begin accompanying its mother into the water for food.

The mothers will often take them into shallow water and stir it up by paddling their feet, bringing nutritious food closer to the cygnets. During this time, cygnets will eat insects, small mollusks, and freshwater shrimp.

After a few weeks, the young swans start to include more plant matter into their diet before assuming a full diet after the first month. That is when they will begin to eat grass, water plants, and fruits.  Shortly after they learn to fly, it’s time to migrate for the colder months, which is something that most cygnets do without their parents.

What Do Swans Eat During the Winter?

Swans can thrive in cold climates by eating more vegetables, grains, and grasses.

©Teemu Tretjakov/Shutterstock.com

Swans are migratory birds, and they head for warmer areas when the winter starts to become severe. They may travel several thousand miles from places as far away as Alaska to the East Coast of the United States.

Along the way, swans will start losing access to a lot of their favorite foods as winter reduces the availability of water plants and the rich foods that grow around ponds and lakes.

The foods swans eat during their migratory times and in winter include:

  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Celery
  • Cracked corn
  • Grain
  • Herbs
  • Beetles
  • Animal feeds
  • Wheatgrass
  • Ryegrass
  • Cranberries

These foods are in addition to the ones that swans regularly consume. Their typical diet becomes more common the farther south that these birds travel. However, they adapt to their situation, often frequenting large open fields where corn was just harvested or landing in areas with suitable animal feed left in the open.

What Predators Eat Swans?

Grey wolves are rare, but they can eat swans without a challenge.


Swans are large, territorial birds, but that does not make them immune to predation. In fact, their large size, bright coloring, and willingness to leave themselves exposed while feeding makes them quite an attractive target. The same goes for their young, helpless cygnets.

These are the most common swan predators:

  • Wolves
  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Foxes
  • Snapping turtles
  • Domestic cats
  • Herons
  • Raccoons
  • Snakes
  • Domestic dogs
  • Humans

As with most predators, the most successful attacks are those carried out on cygnets. Adult swans will make themselves appear larger by spreading their wings, and they will use their beaks as an offensive measure. However, they are simply not very strong creatures, so enemies that are not scared off stand a good chance of hunting success.

Swans are herbivorous birds prized for their beauty and grace on the water. Their eating habits, while most herbivorous, also include some living creatures, so describing a swan as omnivorous is not entirely incorrect.

These creatures live all over the world, and their migratory patterns make it easy to spot them in far-flung places, especially in the winter.

What Do Swans Eat? (And What Not to Feed Them?)

What is the best thing to feed swans?

What should you not feed swans?

What do baby swans eat?

Do swans eat fish?

What do swans eat in the winter?

How do swans eat?

Can swans eat bread?

Can swans eat fruit and vegetables?

Can swans eat nuts?

Do swans eat ducklings?

Swans are beautiful and elegant birds found in many parts of the world. The sight of a swan family gliding gracefully along a river, with the male (or cob) and female (a pen) followed by their brood of fluffy cygnets, never fails to attract our admiration.

Swans are some of the largest flying birds, with wingspans up to 3m. They can easily weigh 15kg and need to eat up to 25% of their body weight every day. So what do they actually eat?

Swan are primarily vegetarians, so their nutrition comes mainly from plants that grow under the water, though they will eat insects occasionally. This typically happens when tiny fish, tadpoles, worms, molluscs, fish and frogs eggs become entangled in the weeds that the swan is eating.

The question is, should we humans be helping by feeding them? In this article, we go through the basics of swan nutrition and tell you everything you need to know about the dos and don’ts of feeding swans.

Swans mainly eat aquatic plants

What is the best thing to feed swans?

Swans can survive quite happily without us feeding them. If you do want to feed them, stick to foods they’d naturally seek out, such as:

  • Grains
  • Corn
  • Carrots (shredded or finely chopped)
  • Spinach and other leafy greens in bite-sized pieces
  • Lettuce

A group of swans eating corn

What should you not feed swans?

Feeding any processed human foods to swans can result in nutritional imbalances or lead to potentially dangerous digestive blockages, which can even be fatal.

Never feed any of the following to swans:

  • Pastries, cakes, cookies, and any sugary foods
  • Raw meat
  • Cooked bones
  • Chips and other fast foods
  • Crisps and other salty, highly processed snacks
  • Chocolate
  • Apples
  • Onions or garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Dried beans and pulses

Also, only offer small amounts of permitted foods (in the section above), and stop feeding as soon as the swans lose interest.

A family of swans eating duckweed

What do baby swans eat?

After six weeks in an egg, baby swans, or cygnets, emerge into the world covered in fluffy down and with their eyes open. They are referred to as ‘precocial’ meaning that they are relatively mature from the moment they hatch. They’re ready for their first swim within a couple of days.

Before they hatch, they absorb the last of the egg yolk, so they can go without additional food for the first 7-10 days. The yolk is packed with nutrients and also has the advantage of being highly digestible before the cygnets are ready to deal with plants and insects.

But during this time they’ll start learning how to forage for insects and vegetation. By the time their food store is gone, they’re capable of feeding themselves properly, though perhaps still with help from their parents.

For the first seven days, they aren’t able to dip below the water (also known as ‘up-ending’), so any food they take will be on or just below the surface. Both parents may help by pulling up plants from the bottom, or by ‘food-trampling’. This involves paddling wildly for a few seconds, in shallow water, to stir up debris and food that may be lying below and make it easy to catch.

After around two weeks, the cygnets can dive below for longer periods, and pull up weeds for themselves.

Young swans watching their mother dive for weeds

Do swans eat fish?

Swans are primarily vegetarian. Although, on occasion, they may eat fish, frogs, insects, worms, and molluscs, this is usually by chance. The victims probably just happen to be in the vicinity of a tasty chunk of vegetation the swan had decided to grab and don’t move away fast enough.

Interestingly, cygnets are more likely to eat animal matter than adults. As they grow, the amount decreases, and by adulthood, their diet is almost entirely composed of vegetable matter.

For these reasons, feeding fish to swans isn’t necessary or desirable. Please don’t do it.

What do swans eat in the winter?

In freezing temperatures, the foods that swans typically forage may be in a shorter supply, so they'll seek alternatives such as berries and tubers. If you want to help them, go for leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach, and tear it into small pieces.

It's also possible to buy swan food pellets with grains, oils, and minerals, which float on water.

Swans foraging underwater

How do swans eat?

Swans don’t have teeth. To grind their food to a mush, they use a structure called a gizzard, which aids digestion by increasing the surface area of whatever food they swallow.

But even after this, the swan can only extract small amounts of the nutrients it needs. That’s why swans need to eat around 25% of their body weight in food daily. A 15kg swan needs to find 3-4kgs of vegetation every single day.

Can swans eat bread?

Many of us have fond memories of feeding bread to the swans in our local parks and rivers. However, opinion is severely divided as to whether it is harmful or not.

One statement, endorsed by Professor Christopher Perrins of the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology at Oxford University, explains that swans have been eating bread for hundreds of years, and there is no evidence that it harms them in any way– providing it isn't mouldy. It may also be an essential supplement in winter when vegetation is scarce.

The other side of the argument is that bread doesn't provide much nutritional value to swans, and if they fill up on bread, it can mean they aren't getting the required nutrients they require to survive and thrive.

Our general advice is not to feed swans bread, and instead feed them other things like corn, grains and lettuce. These types of food provide swans with much more nutritional benefits.

So if you decide that you want to share some fresh bread with swans, give small quantities and stop throwing as soon as they lose interest (or keep throwing and let the ducks take over!).

Mute Swan diving for food

Can swans eat fruit and vegetables?

In winter, when their typical food sources may be in short supply, greens such as lettuce, spinach, shredded carrots, celery, and other vegetables make a helpful supplement. Remember to cut up the veg into small chunks because swans can't tear or chew their food.

Fruit isn't a natural food for them, and the skin of apples may be toxic for swans – so stick to the veg!

Can swans eat nuts?

Nuts don’t form part of a swan’s natural diet, so don’t offer them. As an alternative, try throwing some green peas or corn onto the ground rather than into the water.

Do swans eat ducklings?

There have been reports of swans attacking mallards and ducklings, but this is likely due to fights over territory rather than an attempt to get a meal.

Expert Q + A

Ask a question

Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.

Feeding swans at home

03/15/2014Feeding swansComments: 0

Feeding swans is a very important aspect of their successful keeping and breeding. The essence of this whole process is practically no different from other domestic waterfowl - geese and ducks (read the articles: feeding ducks and feeding geese in summer and winter). When feeding, it is very important to monitor the behavior of the bird, its health, the swan should not be obese and too well-fed.

It is very important that the swans' diet is balanced, the diet should contain both animal and plant foods. From animal feed, swans perfectly eat meat, fish, various waste from meat processing plants, milk, dairy waste and eggs.


Plant foods include: various herbs, root crops, grain feed and others.

Dairy products are very important for feeding young swans. Milk is best given fermented. You can also give fermented milk products, cottage cheese. nine0006

Swans can also be fed with fish. However, before feeding it is very important to properly prepare it. Be sure to boil the fish and make minced fish. The resulting minced meat is fed with wet mixers. It should be mixed in proportion: 5-10% of the total weight of the mixer. Swans must be fed with fish during molting, and fish is also very useful for young animals.

Fish can be replaced with meat or meat and bone meal. These products, like fish, are very rich in animal proteins and essential amino acids. The amount of meat and bone meal in the diet of swans should be at least 3-8% of the total feed. nine0006

Eggs should only be fed to young animals. They are fed boiled and crushed.

Green food is the main source of vitamins for swans. They strengthen the body of the bird very well, and also contribute to better growth and development of young animals.

Green fodder is fed fresh to swans, pre-crushed. Swans eat very well: clover, alfalfa, nettles and dandelions. Swans also eat root crops very well: pumpkin, potatoes, carrots, cabbage and beets. nine0006

Now you should make a detailed diet for feeding the swans. It varies depending on the age of the bird, season, conditions of detention and many other important factors.

All the rations given below tell how much and what foods one swan needs to eat per day.

Young swans are, first of all, very picky about protein products, therefore, the feeding rations, depending on the age of the chicks, will be as follows:

Swans 1-10 days old:

  • Barley mash - 9. 5 grams
  • Wheat bran - 5 grams
  • Pea mash 3 grams
  • Meat and bone meal 1 gram
  • Fishmeal 1 gram
  • Feed yeast 1 gram
  • Chalk 0.6 grams
  • Egg 5 grams
  • Millet 6 grams
  • Curd 5 grams
  • Green food 5-10 grams.

Swans aged 11-20 days:

  • Barley turf 12 grams
  • Wheat bran 10 grams
  • Pea mash 18 grams
  • Meat and bone meal 2 grams
  • Fishmeal 2 grams
  • Yeast 1 gram
  • Millet 10 grams
  • Egg 10 grams
  • Curd 8 grams
  • Green food 25 grams
  • Root vegetables 20 grams.

Adult swans:

In summer, adult swans are fed:

  • Bread, oats, barley, millet or bran 250 grams
  • Minced meat or minced fish 230 grams
  • Green food 500 grams
  • Mineral feed 20 grams

In winter, adult swans are fed:

  • Bread, oats, barley, millet or bran 700 grams
  • Minced meat or minced fish 20 grams
  • Root vegetables 300 grams
  • Mineral feed 20 grams.
The subject is immense, read also:

Feed, but do no harm: what can you treat swans on the Clear Lake? nine0001

In Severodonetsk, citizens are urged not to feed the swans, which have been living on the territory of Chistye Ozero since this spring, with bread. People, thinking that the birds are starving, begin to feed them. Mostly a long loaf, but experts ask not to do this. In the summer, swans calmly find food, and human compassion, on the contrary, can only harm the bird. But if you really want to feed, but you don’t know what and how to do it right so as not to harm the bird, our today’s tips are for you. nine0112

Swans always choose shallow waters with abundant vegetation. For them, it is vital. Among the dense tall grass they build nests, and numerous algae go to them as food. In shallow water, they are easier to get. The swan is able to dive to a depth of 90 cm. With the help of a long neck, it can reach the bottom, tearing off the stems and leaves of plants. In addition to algae, birds find other food in the reservoir: small fish, amphibians, caviar, bloodworms, small bugs.

Sometimes swans may come ashore in search of nutritious food. On the shore they eat green grass rich in vitamins. For swans, the following vegetation is preferable: clover, alfalfa, dandelions, plantain. Birds love oats, wheat, barley, corn is useful for them, both young shoots and mature cobs. nine0006

Be careful with feeding. It is not recommended to constantly help the birds to find food. They quickly get used to people and to new conditions. Swans will simply stop looking for food, hoping for human help. If you feed the swans from childhood, they become addicted to bread, like a drug. A baited bird loses its natural instincts, its behavior becomes unpredictable. Seeing a person who for some reason does not give bread, the bird does not run away, but hisses at him and can even hit him with a wing. With the onset of cold weather, the birds suffer, cannot orient themselves and fly away in search of unfrozen reservoirs. As a result, they begin to get sick and may die. nine0006

A person who feeds birds should know what the swan eats and observe the following rules: quantities.

Do not feed spoiled food to birds - it is deadly!

The digestive organs of these birds are arranged in such a way that they must drink water with food, so the food must be thrown into the water or onto the edge of the shore. nine0005

In the warm season, swans prefer plant foods - greens, finely chopped beets, carrots and cabbage, boiled potatoes, corn leaves.

Experts advise feeding birds only at temperatures below 15 degrees below zero, in extreme situations, when water bodies freeze and the birds have only a tiny hole to swim in, or in case of illness or injury.

It is better to use various grains as feed, but not hard, but slightly boiled. Suitable pearl barley, barley, millet. Sprouted grains of wheat will be especially useful. If feeding swans becomes your favorite pastime, stock up on compound feed for poultry (it is sold in the markets or in specialized stores).

Learn more