Feeding Swans and Cygnets: What to feed and what to avoid
Swans eat aquatic vegetation, which their long necks equip them to take from the riverbed. They take the molluscs which cling to the vegetation and also eat small fish, frogs and worms.
They will graze big grassy fields, and can survive quite successfully in a field of short-cropped grass. Flocks of Bewick's and whooper swans can be seen in potato fields during the winter, feeding on the potatoes left after harvesting.
Swans normally find enough food in the wild without supplementary feeding. It is only in freezing weather that extra food can be helpful. Many people like feeding bread to swans, which is fine as long as it's not mouldy, but when it's fed in large quantities it can cause dietary problems.
Grain, such as wheat, and vegetable matter, especially lettuce and potatoes, can be fed to swans, together with corn, chopped cabbage, spinach, frozen peas and floating specialised swan and duck food pellets are the most suitable foods for swans and larger cygnets.Food should be thrown into the water to avoid encouraging the birds onto the bank.
In common with advice from the RSPB and The Canals & Rivers Trust, Swan Lifeline does not recommend feeding human food to swans and other wildfowl. This includes cooked meats, bread, pizza bases, cakes, sandwiches which contain butter and meat products as these contain high levels of salt, sugar, fats and other additives. They will also deteriorate in the river if they're not eaten, or go mouldy, which can cause severe intestinal problems.
Human foods are not a substitute for a swan's natural diet.
Feeding Swans and Cygnets FAQs
Swans primarily eat aquatic vegetation, small fish, frogs, and worms. They even graze on grassy fields.
While they can eat bread, it's not recommended as it lacks the nutrients they need - although small quantities can be fed during winter months.
Instead of bread, it is preferable to stick to spcialist swan food (which floats), green leafy vegetables or swan-friendly alternatives.
You can feed a small amount of grass cuttings to swans by throwing some into the water. Only feed small amounts until the swans have eaten what's already in there. When they stop eating it, stop throwing it in!
Don't dump all of your cuttings into a river, as they reduce oxygen levels in the water and can lead to fish dying and aquatic plants not growing. Grass cuttings and other garden waste can also cause blockages at waterways, leading to risk of flooding.
Cygnets (baby swans) eat similar food to adult swans but need softer items like water plants and small aquatic insects. If you want to feed cygnets, then grass cuttings, and small pieces of lettuce or spinach are good, as are peas.
Fresh vegetables, and specialist swan and duck food pellets (which float) are great choices.
Swans mainly eat plant matter but can consume small aquatic animals like fish and frogs. They should never be fed processed meats.
Yes, swans do eat small fish as part of their diet.
As a rule of thumb, only feed green vegetables to swans. Peas, lettuce and other leafy greens such as spring greens, spinach and kale, are favourites with swans. Always break or chop up larger leaves. During hot weather, frozen peas are very welcomed!
Swans have been seen feeding on leftover potatoes in fields. Unseasoned and cut into small pieces, potatoes can be given occasionally.
Always throw food into the water to disuade them from coming out of the water. If fed on land, swans will associate coming onto land to find food and this can end with swans following people and walking down roads, and even into shops.
As a rule of thumb, you shouldn't feed swans anything that has non-natural salt or sugar in it. In common with advice from the RSPB and The Canals & Rivers Trust, Swan Lifeline does not recommend feeding human food to swans and other wildfowl. This includes cooked meats, bread, pizzas, cakes and sandwiches, which all contain butter and meat products, as these contain high levels of salt, sugar, fats and other additives. They will also deteriorate in the river if they're not eaten, or go mouldy, which can cause severe intestinal problems or botulism, which can be fatal to swans if not caught quickly.
Whether black or white, swans generally enjoy the same diet.
Avoid any processed or mouldy foods, and especially cooked meats, bread, pizzas, cakes and sandwiches
No. Swans are not known to eat other birds.
Swans are known to eat a variety of insects and small fish during the winter months. They also eat aquatic plants and small fruits.