Spotlight: Animal

Spotlight, November 17, 2014: Swan swim speed

swan.JPG

Mute swan on the Limmat River near Zurich Hauptbahnhof.

Every day I commute into the city of Zurich, and I walk past swans and ducks cavorting or sleeping on the Limmat River by the train station. I noticed one evening that the swans can swim surprisingly fast. It turns out that swans are the fastest swimmers and fliers of any waterfowl, as well as one of the longest lived of all birds. I discovered that they can fly at speeds of up to 50 mph, but I was unable to find any information about their swimming speed. In fact, my Google search turned up several entries from Dwarf Fortress Wiki and one hit through answer.com (how fast do swans swim?). The answer provided for that question was “swans swimm so fast at lest 100 mile pore awer,” so it didn’t seem to me like the most credible source.

I decided to calculate my own answer. I measured my shoe (25 cm) and used my steps to pace off the length of a room (26 steps). Then I timed myself walking through the room at the pace I best remembered for the swan on the Limmat (13 seconds). That comes out to a standard traveling-perpendicular-to-the-current speed of 0.5 m/s or ~1.12 mph. Not bad. That’s faster than I can bike uphill.