What Do Swans Eat {& What Not To Feed Them!}

Swans are known for their beauty and gracefulness. If you’ve ever seen a family of swans swimming across your favorite pond, you may have wondered what they live on. What do swans eat? What foods should you feed your friendly neighborhood swans if you would like to supplement their diet? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more!

What Do Swans Eat?

What Do Swans Eat

Swans are primarily herbivores, but they can eat some animal-based foods too–especially when they are young. They are opportunistic foragers who eat a variety of plants, and they have to eat continuously throughout the day to get all the nutrients they need.

Swans don’t absorb a lot of nutrition each time they eat, so they have to eat a lot every day. They will eat about a fourth of their total body weight, which ranges 20 to 27 pounds–this means that the average swan will eat four to seven pounds of food per day.

Some common foods swans will eat include:

  • Algae: Algae is one of their favorite foods because it is often abundant in the ponds and wetlands they call home. Also, because it floats on top of the water in lakes, it is easy for them to forage and doesn’t require a lot of energy to consume–it is easily digestible.
  • Aquatic plants: Swans most often eat while in the water, so a large part of their diet is made up of aquatic plants such as pondweed, coontail, muskgrass, and wild celery. Their serrated beaks make it easy for them to rip away bite-sized portions of each plant they eat.
  • Grains: Swans get many of their protein needs from the seeds and grains of a variety of plants, which they will sometimes confiscate from farms near their homes. Some of these grains include wild rice, grass seed, wheat, corn, and barley.
  • Grass: Swans sometimes eat while on land as well as in the water. When on land, they will eat various kinds of grasses and other land plants.
  • Vegetables: During the winter, the plants they would normally eat may not be as readily available, so swans will supplement with a variety of vegetables they may forage themselves or receive from humans. Some of these vegetables include spinach, lettuce, celery, carrots, and even potatoes.
  • Berries: Swans generally don’t eat fruit, though they will sometimes eat berries, especially those found in the wild when other foods are more difficult to come by. They will sometimes accept blueberries and cranberries from humans as well.
  • Insects, fish, and mollusks: Adult swans rarely eat meat-based foods, though they sometimes accidentally consume small fish, insects, snails, worms, and crawdads that are tangled up with the plant foods they eat.

Though swans enjoy eating easy-to-reach foods on or near the surface of the water, they often dive to reach foods underneath the surface in a humorous display known as up-ending. Check out this video to see what it looks like:

What Should You Feed Swans?

People often enjoy feeding swans at local ponds and parks. If you have swans in your own neighborhood, maybe you would like to join in on the fun, but you’re not sure what to feed them.

Let’s take a look at some good options.

  • Corn, oats, and wheat: As mentioned above, swans enjoy eating a variety of grains. This is one of the best food groups you can offer them, and some easy types of grain you might try include fresh and dried corn, oats and oatmeal, and grains of wheat.
  • Grated carrots: Swans enjoy carrots when they can get them, though they are unable to eat them whole or in chunks. If you’re going to feed carrots, be sure and grate them up first so the swans can eat them.
  • Grated potatoes: Swans also seem to enjoy potatoes, especially in the winter when a lot of other foods aren’t available. Again, grate them up first so the swans are able to eat them more easily.
  • Leafy greens: Leafy vegetables such as spinach and lettuce are more of an acquired taste for swans, but they will eat them especially if they don’t have ready access to grass or other green plants in their environment.
  • Swan pellets: You can buy premade swan feed, or swan pellets, online, though you can also give them certain other kinds of animal feed (such as chicken pellets). These premade foods generally combine grains, minerals, and sometimes other nutrients to provide a well-balanced meal.

What Not to Feed Swans

As diverse as their diet may be, there are some foods that you should not feed swans, as these foods could make them sick or even kill them. Let’s take a look at which foods to avoid when feeding swans.

  • Beans: Though beans are technically a kind of seed, they are unhealthy for swans and should not be fed to them in any form.
  • Apples: Swans may be able to eat the flesh of apples, but the skins and seeds contain various toxins that can kill them, so it’s best to avoid giving them apples altogether.
  • Onions: Like apples, onions also contain toxins that can kill swans. Never attempt to feed them onions.
  • Bread: Though many people give bread to swans, it can cause intestinal blockages and malnutrition. If you’re going to give them bread, it should be a kind like Ezekiel bread that is heavy on the grains, and you should only give them small amounts.
  • Salty foods: Swans do have the ability to process and remove some excess salt from their diet, giving them salty human foods can cause organ failure and death.
  • Other foods to avoid: Some of the foods you shouldn’t feed swans, such as chocolate and anything with alcohol, are kind of obvious; other things, such as tomato leaves and avocados, you might not think about. To be on the safe side, stick to feeding foods from the list above–foods you know swans can eat.

What Do Baby Swans Eat?

What Do Baby Swans Eat

Unlike their parents, baby swans (known as cygnets) mostly eat meat-based foods at first, though they don’t need to eat right after hatching because they fully absorb the yolk before emerging from their shell. 

After a couple of days, they will begin to eat insects, snails, worms, small fish, crawdads, tadpoles, and other meaty foods. Parents will often stir up food on the bottom of the pond because the babies can’t dive down for it yet.

As they grow, cygnets begin to add plants to their diet; by the time they reach adulthood, they eat mostly plant foods; they may continue to eat animal-based foods only by accident or in times of food shortage.

Do Swans Drink Water?

Yes; swans need plenty of water in their diet. They most often get their water while foraging for food in their ponds; they swallow lots of water while gulping up mouthfuls of food.

Swans mostly drink freshwater, though they can survive on small amounts of saltwater if this is their only option. Their bodies are capable of filtering the salt out of the water and expelling it through glands above their beaks.


Swans eat many different kinds of plant-based foods, though they sometimes accidentally eat small insects, fish, and other meat-based foods in the process. They need to eat about 25 percent of their own body weight in food every day, and they also need to drink a significant amount of water along with that food.

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