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….







‘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….