A magnificent ‘7’….

So, after an almost six-week wait, they’re finally here! This year’s cygnets arrived on Saturday 6th May…. Lady’s patience – sitting on her nest – has been rewarded with seven gorgeous, fluffy, grey bundles of joy….

The first two days were, as in previous years, spent on the nesting pond; swimming lessons began in earnest on Sunday….

Swimming lessons…

Monday, the new family made its way down to the pond by us and I was given the customary formal introduction. This is the fourth time this privilege has been bestowed upon me and I found it no less surreal this year than in previous ones – it truly is an honour….

Mum and Dad stayed for about fifteen minutes to introduce their new family and then took the young brood back to the water, where they remained until the following morning….


Now the worry begins….Mr. Fox is never far away. Last year was disastrous; out of the five cygnets that hatched, only one survived, Mr. Fox claiming four in one morning, when they were only a few days old…. How? Well, because for some reason only be-known to themselves, every year Mum and Dad enjoy taking their youngsters on hiking expeditions around the village. On this particular occasion they somehow managed to leave one of their offspring behind on the pond…. Ironically, this is the one that survived….

Aware that the grass on the common is especially long at this time of year and provides good coverage for a sly, awaiting fox, a path has been cut between the two ponds… The idea being to provide the swan family with a safer route as they to-and-fro…. You would think Mum and Dad would be grateful, wouldn’t you? No, what they’ve actually done defines the term ‘bird-brain’! They have taken all seven babies on a marathon hike to another pond within the village; a walk that involves negotiating steep banks, ditches and a main road! Thankfully, the whole family made it to the other pond safely but now, if true to form, they will return and have to repeat the whole hazardous journey…. Why do they do this? We have no idea, there is no rhyme or reason to why they should expose their young family to so much danger…. I can only assume they are bursting with pride and want to show their new brood off….

Putting the urge  to wander aside, our two are generally excellent parents, protecting and defending their babies diligently….

The female mute swan (Cygnus olor) lays between 4 and 10 eggs which she will then incubate for approximately 36 days, (sometimes with the male’s help – but not in the case of our pair). Cygnets hatch between May and July and then remain with their parents for an average of seven months. When they are between three to four months old they usually begin to learn to fly…. (I say ‘usually’, as this pair are somewhat neglectful at teaching this particular skill). It is also about this time that the cygnets begin to gain their white feathers; once they are predominately white, Mum and Dad will begin to chase them off…. Of course, there is no exact timetable, things vary from family to family; in fact, last year’s cygnet remained with his parents until he was almost nine months old….

For a pair of mute swans who have a tendency to produce ‘Polish’ swans amongst their brood, things may be very different again, from the normal up-bringing….

Polish swans were first imported to London around 1800, from the Polish coast of the Baltic Sea. Poulterers were convinced they had discovered a brand new species of swan and even gave it the name ‘Cygnus immutabillis’ – meaning ‘changeless swan’. However, they are not a different species but a mutation of the familiar mute swan. Instead of the smokey, grey colour we associate with new cygnets, those of the Polish swan hatch pure white and have pinky-grey legs and feet rather than the usual dark grey. They are not (as sometimes perceived) albino, as there is pigmentation present in the eyes – they are, in fact, a colour variant….

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Photo credit: Mute Swan Cygnet (Cygnus olor) ajmatthehiddenhouse via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tonymorris/5827865156/

What causes this, is a pigment deficiency in a gene of the sex chromosomes. Female birds have two different sex chromosomes (ZW), whereas males have two of the same type (ZZ). Sometimes the female inherits one that is melanin deficient; this will make her a Polish swan. A male swan born to the same parents will be normal, unless he has two mutated forms of the gene. If a Polish and ‘normal’ swan breed their cygnets will be a mixture of normal and Polish – of either sex….

Early records of the morph can be traced back to the 17th Century. In some Eastern European countries, Polish swans can make up to 20% of the population; in Western Europe it is typically just 1%. Here in Britain there are reports of them in Kent, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk….

Obviously it is difficult to tell at first glance if an adult mute swan is Polish; the giveaway is the pinky-grey colouring of the feet and legs. The cygnets are far more obvious, being pure white when they hatch…. This can be a distinct disadvantage to the Polish cygnet – there have been cases of the parents drowning them…. Generally there is a higher mortality rate amongst Polish swans…. instead of moulting into the usual brown feathers of the normal cygnet, the Polish will gain its white plumage immediately; this could result in the parents chasing it off long before it is ready to leave the protection and safety of the family unit….

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Photo credit: Schwanekinder dolorix via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7684055@N08/2512796007/

There is an indication that those who do survive will breed earlier than their counterparts…. In the wild, male swans pair off later than their female siblings. Females usually find a mate in their second year and will often breed in their third. Young males are not normally strong enough to defend a territory until they are three or four years old….and do not gain their full, mature adult appearance until this time.  Indeed, I for one have been caught out by this…. I was convinced our very own Dad swan was a female in the beginning, when he was in fact a juvenile male….he still gets called ‘Penelope’ from time to time….

So, now our new arrivals begin their journey to adulthood…. I am pleased to report that whilst writing this the family has arrived back from its jaunt – and all are safe and well. Hopefully, they have got the wanderlust out of their systems for the time being and we can all settle down  and get on with the feeding regime….







Let the Mute Swans have a voice….

It’s that time of year again, our female swan is now resident on the nest, whilst her spouse vehemently guards her – (well, until meal time arrives, then as usual he appears at the backdoor – all this defending business makes for hungry work, don’t you know)…?


During the breeding season Floppy turns into the Devil Swan….ten times more grumpy than usual. To make a quick trip across the track to a neighbour’s house takes careful planning and negotiation; timing is of the essence – it’s best to wait until he’s not around at all, if possible…. Wheels are a particular bug-bear of his, he can’t resist having a go at any passing vehicle; I have seen him launch himself at full pelt in order to get at the milkman’s truck…. As for the poor lady who delivers the newspapers, with her pull along trolley….he just cant help himself….

Floppy showing his dislike of my car….

It’s common knowledge that breeding swans become more aggressive than usual; they are just doing their job, protecting their territory, nest and then once they arrive, their cygnets. There is no denying that a swan in full defensive mode is very imposing – one of Britain’s heaviest birds, at up to 15kg (33lbs) and with a wing span that can reach up to 2.4m (7.9ft), no wonder some people find them terrifying when confronted. Swans don’t attack just for the fun of it though (unless their name is Floppy)…. Generally, if you back away they will retreat, they may attempt to take a bite if you really overstep the mark…. A wing swipe can hurt but unless it’s to a young child or someone frail or elderly, the breaking of arms and legs is a misconception…. It was a myth put about by swan owners in the Middle Ages to stop poaching, when swans were considered a delicacy for the Royal dinner table….a myth that remained long after swan was taken off the menu. Out of the thousands of swans resident in Britain, to hear of a human being ferociously attacked by a swan is the rarest of occurrences….

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Photo credit: Mute Swan Mick E. Talbot via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/micks-wildlife-macros/5639133028/

The Crown claimed ownership on Britain’s mute swan population in the 12th Century, which is how the Queen now owns the majority of these majestic white birds….

It has been suggested that the mute swan, Cygnus Olor, was first introduced to Britain by the Romans, although remains have been found in East Anglia dating back to some 6,000 years ago. Naturally found in Africa, Asia, China, Europe and the Mediterranean area as well as the UK, the mute swan is adaptable to its surroundings. It can be found in coastal regions, on rivers and at estuaries, on ponds and lakes, grazing on flooded grasslands, in marshland and wetlands…. It has also been introduced to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and North America…. Its diet consists mainly of aquatic plants, snails and it will graze on grass. If semi-tame, it will happily feed on grain and lettuce. Although swans enjoy bread it is not advisable to throw it into the water for them as it does pollute and poison the water….

Thanks to conservation efforts here in the UK the swan is now at ‘least concern’ level on the conservation status. During the 1980s the population was in rapid decline, especially on the River Thames. Numbers had begun to fall in the 60s, the main culprit – lead fishing weights. Since the ban of lead weights in the 80s and with the help of a series of mild winters, the mute swan population has recovered and is now back to the levels seen in the 1950s. Swans have few natural predators; foxes will take cygnets (as our pair found out the hard way last year). The biggest dangers to swans are pollution, discarded fishing tackle, overhead power cables, harsh winters (ponds freezing over, lack of food) and mankind….unfortunately, often through acts of vandalism….

Mute swans are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 – the Act also covers eggs and nests. It is an offence to take or possess an egg and nests are protected whilst being built or used….

Occasionally swans get bad press. Most dog walkers are responsible, they keep their pets on leads when around swans, as they would around any wildlife or livestock…. However, you do hear of the occasional incident. Quite frankly, if a dog owner doesn’t have enough common- sense….well, I’d best not go there….

Sometimes a swan behaving badly makes the news; such as the apt named ‘Psycho Swan’ that terrorised members of a model boat club that regularly use a Suffolk lake…. In July 2016 the swan was responsible for the destruction of several model boats, much to the fury of the boats owners…. The ‘errant’ swan was the proud dad of four cygnets and was obviously taking his duties very seriously….no more needs to be said….

Floppy attending to his parental duties….

As the swan population increases the relationship between swans, farmers and those with fish interests can sometimes become stretched…. Natural food is at its scarcest between late Winter and early Spring – complaints from farmers about foraging swans have increased. Damage to crops, especially winter cereals and oilseed rape are rising, not just from being eaten but also from being trampled on and the ground being compacted. Some farmers plant decoy crops to try to tempt the plundering swans away from the main crop….others resort to bird scarers….

Another area where swans are falling out of favour is with the river management authorities. Studies have been conducted by DEFRA on rivers; for example the Rivers Itchen and Test (Hampshire) and the Kennet and Lower Avon (Wiltshire and Berkshire) and the adjacent agricultural land. Results showed that groups of swans only used part of the river, so damage remained localised. The plant community was the main sufferer, typically water crowfoot, a favourite food source for grazing swans; this effects conservation and angling value. Moving groups of swans away from more sensitive areas may help to manage the impact of their grazing; fencing off areas does not appear to work, suspended tape to deter the birds might help – but this is a pricey option. There is no conclusive answer – however, non-lethal methods do have to be found. At least as a result of the studies, authorities are beginning to understand the impacts on the chalk river eco-system and hopefully a practical, effective solution will be found….

British swans can perhaps thank their lucky stars that as current legislation stands, they are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act…. Which is more than can be said for their American cousins….

The mute swan first arrived in the States in the late 1800s – brought over from Europe to decorate the ornamental ponds and lakes of wealthy landowners. Quickly numbers increased and feral colonies formed….

The majority of American people see the mute swan as a creature of beauty….but there are those who view it as an invasive species that destroys the natural habitats of ducks, geese and America’s own trumpeter swan. They believe wetland eco-systems are put under threat and water is polluted with their faeces. They also cite the swan as dangerous, attacking children and the vulnerable….

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Trumpeter Swan SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent) via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brent_nashville/6825761442/

An incident that occurred in April 2012 did nothing to help the mute swan’s defence…. An angry swan was blamed for the death of a kayaker on a Chicago pond…. Anthony Hensley was working for a company that used swans to deter geese from its property. Hensley was using a kayak to check on the birds when a swan swam aggressively at him, causing him to tip out of the canoe. Being fully clothed, his sodden clothing made it difficult for him to swim to shore and the swan continued to attack him – tragically he drowned…. He was not wearing a life jacket….

Many states in the US see culling as the only way to manage the increasing mute swan population. Michigan plans to reduce its numbers from 15,000 to 2,000 by 2030; due to the belief damage is being caused to the wetland eco-system. Hunting groups are in support of this proposal; birds they choose to hunt, such as the ring-necked pheasant, could live in the areas vacated by the swans. People have been instructed not to take injured swans needing attention to wildlife centres and existing birds receiving care are expected to be handed over. This has caused an outcry from many people….

In Ohio, the killing of mute swans and the addling of their eggs (coating with oil to prevent them from hatching) has been done discreetly, to avoid a public outburst….

Perhaps one of the most emotive cases is that of New York State. In December 2013 the Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources (DEC), released a draft management plan which proposed the complete elimination of all 2,200 mute swans in New York State by 2025. Slaughter was to be carried out by either shooting or the rounding up and catching of groups to be gassed; nests and eggs were also to be destroyed….and all at the tax payer’s expense…. There was public outrage….

A revised management plan was then produced, proposing that numbers would be reduced from 2,200 to 800. Swans in parks would be allowed to live, only wild swans were to be eradicated, along with their eggs and nests. Landowners could apply for permits but would have to prevent their birds from being able to leave the private land. The State sought permission from private landowners and local county governments to kill swans on their land….

The DEC claimed to sympathise with and understand the public’s view and affection for swans but at the same time stated sentiment could not take precedence and also apportioned some of the blame to the rise in the swan population to people feeding the birds…. The DEC’s concerns included that the ‘invasive’ species was threatening the wetland eco-system and natural habitat of the native trumpeter swan, as the mute eats up to 8lbs of aquatic vegetation per day (the trumpeter eats up to 20lbs)….and that the mute swan poses a danger to children. One of its main high-lighted concerns was that of swans being a hazard to aviation – after the 2009 Hudson incident….

On the 15th of January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 took off from La Guardia Airport, New York, bound for North Carolina. Three minutes after take off the Airbus A320 struck a migratory flock of Canada geese – sucking many of the birds into the ‘plane’s engines. To avoid disaster the pilots successfully ditched the aircraft into the Hudson River, off midtown Manhattan. All 155 people aboard were rescued with very little serious injury….the incident became known as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’. As a ‘precaution’, thousands of Canada geese living in the vicinity of New York’s airports were rounded up….and gassed. Bear in mind it was a migratory flock (proven by DNA analysis) that collided with the Airbus and not local geese….

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Photo credit: New York District Responds to U.S. Airways Flight 1549 Crash in the Hudson River USACE NY via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/newyorkdistrict-usace/3748885467/

The revised plan for the management of the mute swan by the DEC still fell well short of public approval. In November 2016 a two-year moratorium was announced, signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The DEC now has to demonstrate mute swans have caused actual damage to the environment and to other natural animal species with fully documented scientific evidence. Also, each area with swan populations is to have two public hearings; and any future proposed management plans must give priority to non-lethal techniques….

So, for now, New York City’s population of mute swans is currently benefitting from a two-year stay of execution…. at the end of this period, the eyes of the World will be upon them….

swan ferry


















































































































































Swan Roast, anyone…?

It’s that time of year again, our resident female swan is ‘feasting’ – building up her reserves ready for when she sits on the nest. She has become very persistent in asking for food and is incredibly grumpy when it is not forthcoming as and when she demands it…. She will often run at me and try to aim a peck or even a wing swipe, to show her disapproval at being made to wait. I’ve told her, on more than one occasion, that she ought to think herself lucky that this is the 21st Century or she may well have found herself on the dinner table….

Photo credit: ‘Nordic Museum’ Tuomo Lindfors via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL https://www.flickr.com/photos/tlindfors/29112721813/

In truth, swan would have been reserved for the tables of Royalty and high nobility. People, in Mediaeval times especially, ate what was available to them and within their social standing. Peasants would have had a diet consisting mainly of bread, porridge, eggs, cheese, nuts, berries and what ever fruit and vegetables they could grow themselves. Meat was, on the whole, seldom eaten, maybe the occasional rabbit, pork or on special occasions, goose or chicken. Hens were more useful as egg layers than to provide meat….

Upper classes enjoyed far more variety, not only due to their wealth but also to their passion for hunting with birds of prey. As well as rabbit and hare, it could in fact be said, if it had feathers it was to be considered ‘fair game’…. Anything from sparrow to peacock could appear on the menu….

Photo credit: ‘Sparrow’ Stewart Black via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/s2ublack/6906723808/

In this current age of so many bird lovers, (a trip to the local garden centre will show how big a market there is for wild bird feed), it is almost incomprehensible that our feathered friends once graced the tables of households across the land. Thrushes, finches, starlings were all eaten….the utmost prize would have been a young cuckoo that had just fledged. Heron, crane and crow were all considered delicacies and were favoured by Royalty. Stork, cormorant, bittern, puffin, bustard, gull, guillemot, lark and woodcock would all have been served as part of a meal….

Peacocks were domesticated and prized for their plumage, they were very much a status symbol. Although not particularly tasty and  quite tough, they were still served at banquets, in order to impress. To make the meat more palatable, the birds were likely to have been ‘hung’ for a day or two, by the neck with their feet weighted down. To serve, they would usually have been ‘re-dressed’. This means that once the bird had been cooked the plumage would have been replaced. This was the case with any impressive bird, male pheasants, swans, partridge and the like. In the instance of the peacock, the tail would have been fanned out in a glorious display….

Photo credit: ‘Peacock on display’ asgw via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aidanwojtas/12832649754/

Capons (castrated cockerels) and pheasants were purposely ‘fattened up’ – making them expensive, so were a luxury only for those who could afford them….

In England, (unlike Europe), duck was not popular for every day consumption, it was more likely to be eaten at feasts and on special occasions. Sometimes domestic ducks were kept but mainly wild ducks were hunted. The feathers were a bonus as these were prized for bedding….

Geese were also raised for their feathers, as well as for their meat and grease…. Most dwellings kept these noisy, hissy birds…. In England, goose was the traditional choice for Michaelmas and Whitsuntide, (both minor Christian festivals – not so widely observed in recent times); in Europe, goose was a popular choice at Christmas….

Because of the popularity of falconry, partridge, pheasant and quail were all common place. Pheasant, particularly, was highly valued because the meat was considered very flavoursome….

Photo credit: ‘Pheasant’ Richard Seely via Foter.com / CC BY-NC Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rdseely/3335188629/

Wood pigeons, rock doves and turtle doves were all domesticated for food in Mediaeval Europe, again being reserved mainly for the upper classes. They were very often roasted or made into pies….

Crane and heron were hunted by the aristocracy with their hawks and falcons. Both were popular for banquets. Sometimes, heron would be purposely bred. Swans had been domesticated for centuries. It was actually the young swan that was eaten, the meat of the adult being too tough. The young birds would have been removed from their parents at about three months old, to be raised and fattened up on barley, until they were somewhat obese. Swan apparently tastes more like duck than goose and it lacks the tough ‘beefiness’ of goose…. As soon as their white feathers appeared, at about seven months, the young swans were slaughtered….

In 1482, during the reign of Edward IV, it became legally defined that anyone caught killing a swan, without the permission of the Crown, could be imprisoned. This is how it came to be  that the Monarch owns the majority of the UK’s swans.  Occasionally, throughout history, the Throne has given ‘rights’ to other establishments to own swans, currently there are three of such establishments: The Dyers Livery Company, a historic guild of dyers dating back to the 12th Century, (but now more noted for its charitable work); The Vintners Livery Company, a historic guild of wine merchants, gaining its first charter in 1363; and the Ilchester family, the Ilchester Estate being where the Abbotsbury Swan Sanctuary is located…. Each establishment identifies its own birds, nowadays by ringing them but in days gone by, notches were carved into the swan’s beak…. Any un-ringed swan is automatically assumed as belonging to the Crown….

Photo credit: ‘Swannery at Abbotsbury’ Matt Knott via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewknott/6117206053/

The Queen is at liberty to give swans away to who ever she sees fit; for example, in 1967 she gave six as a gift to Ottowa, Canada, to celebrate its 100th anniversary and Canada’s ties with the UK.

Swans are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981, it prohibits the intentional killing or harming of a swan. To do so could result in being arrested; in 2006 a man in Llandudno, Wales, was imprisoned for 2 months for the killing of a swan. Today the crime is referred to as a felony; the old term for the killing and eating of swans by unauthorised persons was ‘swanage’….

Technically, the Royals are still entitled to consume swan meat; as are the fellows of St. John’s College of Cambridge – however, it is unlikely that it will be appearing at any banquets any time soon….unlike those of yesteryear, where a swan would have been considered the jewel in the crown….

Photo credit: ‘Stockholm Nordiska’ Blake Handley via Foter.com / CC BY Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/56705607@N00/14221111500/

Anyone fancy slivers of swan, poached in saffron and peaches? Or how about a Swan Roast….

Take: one woodcock, place inside a pigeon….place pigeon inside a partridge….partridge inside pheasant….inside a chicken….mallard….duck….goose and finally, a swan…. Roast for many hours, then re-dress in swan plumage : to really impress, at this stage gild the feathers with gold; serves approximately 30 people….

The correct term for stuffing animal into animal is ‘engastration’ – sounds appetising, doesn’t it?! It goes back to the Roman times, possibly even before….

The lavish displays of food at these banquets were very much part of the entertainment. Another great source of delight was the ‘live pie’. As children, we were all familiar with the nursery rhyme ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’; reputedly about such a pie….

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie;
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing;
Oh, wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the King?
The King was in his counting house counting out his money;
The Queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey;
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes;
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose….

Photo credit: Image from page 13 of ‘Sing a song for sixpence’ (1890) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14750884564/

A pie would have been made by baking the pastry first without a filling; the crust would have been thick and would have risen to form a ‘pot’ shape. The top would have been cut off and live birds added and then the lid put back on…. The pie would then have been presented at the table and the lid removed, causing much merriment…. (It’s no wonder the maid in the rhyme had her nose pecked off….revenge!)….

Photo credit: Image from page 11 of ‘The real Mother Goose’ (1916) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14578146570/

Cooks became more competitive; all kinds of animals got added to pies….frogs, rabbits, dogs….even dwarfs, who would pop out and recite a poem! It was reported that a band of musicians actually emerged from one pie….

The first recipe books appeared in England during the 1500s, (before that time recipes would have passed on verbally from mother to daughter). One recipe that may have appeared in such a book has been adapted here for anyone wishing to try out a Mediaeval recipe for themselves….

Mediaeval Game Bird Stew

6 rashers of bacon, cut into large pieces
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 small pheasants or 4 quail or 1 chicken
Handful of coarsely cut mushrooms
Teaspoon of roasted, chopped hazelnuts
1 bottle of ale
3/4 cup of water
3 crumbled bay leaves
salt and pepper
6 slices of whole grain bread

In a heavy pan or flame proof casserole dish, fry the bacon with the garlic. Add the bird(s) and brown on all sides. Add nuts and mushrooms, cook for a few minutes and then add ale, water, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until tender and the meat falling from the bone.

Remove from heat, take the birds out of the liquid. As the juice left in the pan begins to cool, skim off any fat that forms with a slotted spoon. Remove the meat from the bones of the bird(s) and return meat to stew. Reheat gently, then serve on the slices of bread, ensuring it is saturated with juices….


Now, does anyone have any idea how big a pot I’d need to make swan soup…..?

Image from page 58 of ‘The ideal cook book’ (1902) Internet Archive Book Images via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14765023645/


‘Precious’ days….

I think it must be time to bring the story up to date with regards to our resident swan family…. It wont be that long (hopefully) before we will be seeing this year’s family coming along….

Last time, we left them having just raised their first brood and turning their attention to preparing for the second….

This time around, the pair knew exactly what they were doing…. The nest building went smoothly, all went according to plan and six cygnets arrived. Once again, I had the formal introduction and as we all knew what we were doing this time, the normal feeding regime resumed. Sadly, two babies were lost within the first few weeks, to Mr Fox….

‘Class of 2014’….

It soon became apparent Mum and Dad were to be far more relaxed with their parenting skills this particular year, may be a little too relaxed…. They did not seem to put much effort into teaching this brood to fly and they ‘saw them off’ much earlier than the previous family – well before Christmas…. Once more all four found their way down to the same pond that their older brothers and sisters had made a temporary home the year before. Eventually, they too took off, to start their adult lives….

Waiting for tea….
….treating the place like their own….

Floppy and Lady settled down for Winter with us and as Spring approached, began preparations to become parents again…. This time five cygnets hatched and at first it looked as if things would fall into the same rountine as before….

When the babies were just a few days old, for whatever reason, only known to them, Mum and Dad decided to take their young family ‘walkabout’. The careless pair managed to leave one of their youngsters behind, on the pond…. As it transpired, that was actually a stroke of luck for this particular little fella as tragedy was about to strike…. Mr Fox had obviously been awaiting his chance. Floppy and Lady lost all four cygnets on that fateful ‘walk’. It was a very sad day….

The remaining cygnet, who we named ‘Precious’ has thrived…. I believe it to be a male, although my track record at determining swan gender is not great! He is a cheeky individual and he is not ‘backwards at coming forwards’…. When I approach with food, he doesn’t wait to be fed but comes hurtling towards me and if I give him the chance will grab the food from my hand; although I am pleased to note he is wary of people in general….

His parents have been somewhat neglectful in teaching him to fly – although I have been told that last weekend he discovered the art for himself. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around to see his ‘maiden’ flight but have witnessed a few practise flights since…. I am actually surprised he is still with his parents, his feathers are predominantly white and he is already larger than his mother….he is going to be a big bird! Mum and Dad did try one sneaky trick a couple of months ago, whether it was a deliberate attempt to ‘off load’ him, I don’t know….

The family went on a visit to the pond down the road – the same one the previous broods had ended up on…. Mum and Dad conveniently ‘forgot’ to bring Precious back with them…. The poor soul was down there for a whole week, with just a couple of ducks for company. He eventually found his way back to his parents, who were none too pleased to see him and spent the next few days trying to chase him off…. Precious is a determined little guy though and persevered, eventually the adults relented and to this day he remains with them….

So, that is where we are right now… When Precious does finally ‘fly the nest’, I will be really sad to see him go….and I have a feeling it wont be long before he does. When I went out to feed them this morning, for the first time ever I was wary of him, as he showed signs of aggression towards me…. Dad is beginning to chase him, so I am sure his departure is imminent…. However, I am confident he is more than capable of looking after himself…. and fingers crossed, come Spring, we’ll be doing all this again….


The family this morning, enjoying a little Winter sunshine….


Feathering the nest….

A new year traditionally means a time for new beginnings and the start of 2013 was no exception for a certain swan. Gone were his bachelor days, Floppy now had new responsibilities. In the February, he and Lady started to build their first nest together….

It is the female swan who constructs the nest – a large mound, with a bowl shaped indentation that she forms with her body. The male’s role is to gather and supply the material. Our pair chose the roadside pond as it had a plentiful supply of reeds and bulrushes, ideal nesting material. Swans are unable to carry anything in their beaks for any significant distance, so material has to be close to hand. This first year was very much a new experience for Floppy, he didn’t altogether get the ‘knack’ straight away. He would extend his long neck out, pluck a reed and then stretch back to the pile he was accumulating for Lady….Unfortunately, he hadn’t quite calculated his distances correctly, poor Lady had to keep clambering down off the half constructed nest to retrieve the necessary materials she needed. It was all rather comical for us to watch but thankfully he managed to get the hang of it eventually….


Prior to nest building, Lady had become very demanding where food was concerned. Female swans ‘feast’ before sitting on the nest, as during this period they are unlikely to feed properly, or indeed, if at all. Once on the nest, she will lay an egg every other day and a clutch will be anywhere between one and a dozen eggs. She will then sit on these eggs between 32-37 days….

So, for the next few weeks, Lady took up residence on her nest, while Floppy guarded her. Occasionally he would wander down to see us but he took his duty seriously and it was  seldom that he left Lady on her own for long. Her patience was unwavering  but as time wore on, it sadly became apparent that this first year together, parenthood was not to be…. Eventually, Lady abandoned the nest and it was then that we could see it had unfortunately become water-logged….

However, the pair took it all in their stride and spent the Summer enjoying each other’s company and strengthening the bond between them. As time has a habit of flying by so quickly, it seemed like no time at all before nest building activities resumed once again….

This time, they were far more successful. In May 2014, Floppy became a dad for the first time and oh…! What a proud dad he was….

Once again they had nested on the pond by the road. Jordan and I had got into the routine of stopping alongside on our way out on the school run every morning, to see if there were any developments. One day, as we drew up, to our delight, a little grey head popped out of Lady’s feathers….then a tiny cygnet emerged and proceeded to climb up its mother’s back. In what can only be translated as a gesture of annoyance, Lady plucked her errant offspring from her back and deposited it unceremoniously into the nest beside her….

Over the next few days a total of five cygnets appeared. As they grew and developed, it was to be, that there was one particular one that was far more confident and cheeky than its siblings. Jordan and I are convinced that this was the same, very first hatchling, that we had witnessed annoying its mother on that May morning….

Within a couple of days of hatching, Mum and Dad brought their brood down to the pond near us. Cygnets are independent from when just a few hours old, in as far as they can swim and feed themselves. Being a lovely Spring evening, I was outside in the garden, when I noticed the little troop making its way across the grass between the two ponds. Into the water they went, straight across and out the other side…. It then became apparent something very special was about to happen once again….

Obviously, Floppy was eager to show off his new family and he was determinedly leading them towards me. I stood at the gate as they approached and before I knew it, I had five tiny cygnets squirming around my feet, whilst Dad stood proudly looking on. Lady was more hesitant but seemed to accept Floppy’s judgement. It seems this has now become an annual ritual….each year I get a formal introduction to the new brood.

That first year was very much a learning curve for all of us but it soon became evident I was expected to play my role in helping to raise the youngsters. The family took over a patch in the front garden as their designated feeding ground and would appear at regular intervals through out the day. If I was busy and did not notice them straight away, they would just all sit and wait patiently. However, these early good manners did not last long…. Nowadays, if I haven’t responded immediately, one of the adults will come to the back door to fetch me….

These first cygnets stayed with their parents until just after New Year. Mum and Dad did a good job, teaching the youngsters to fly and how to behave like proper, grown-up swans….Witnessing the flying lessons had its entertaining moments but there were also some hair raising ones. Twice, there were incidents involving over head cables, one time the power was knocked out to a number of houses. Thankfully, no swan was hurt on either occasion. Another time, during a trainee ‘fly about’, a cygnet crash landed on the village tennis courts. Being enclosed by a high fence, the youngster was unable to get out. Fortunately, the gate had been left unlocked, so my neighbour and I were able to shepherd the hapless young swan back to the rest of its family….

Eventually, Mum and Dad decided it was time for their now adolescent offspring to leave home and began the task of driving them away. It is quite upsetting to witness this, I should know better but it is hard not to get attached. Nature can seem so cruel, the cygnets couldn’t understand why the adults had turned against them, they were completely bewildered…. Once the feathers become predominantly white, the parents view them as being ready to go out into the big, wide World….their job is done….

Mum and Dad finally succeeded in seeing their first born brood off….not that they went far….just down the road to a pond nearer to the centre of the village. To start with all five stayed together, then one flew off, (the ‘cheeky’ one – I suspect). Then, sadly, it became evident that one of them had sustained an injury. The RSPCA had to be called out but unfortunately, nothing could be done, the cygnet was suffering too much. Nobody knows what had happened to it, whether it was a fox or dog attack or if it had been injured in some other way….

That left three, who remained together until eventually taking off for pastures new. Usually, young swans will leave the breeding territory and fly until they encounter a new group of swans they can join. If the parents are solitary, as are our two, then the cygnets are very much on their own at this point. If the adults over winter in a colony, then their young will often fly with them to join the larger group. Generally speaking, swans pair up in the first two years of their lives….

Over the following few weeks after their departure, there were several reported sightings of three swans together on various local ponds. I would like to think this particular trio successfully made it through to adulthood….

Meanwhile, Mum and Dad were busy concentrating on making preparations for the next brood….