If you follow the meteorological seasons Spring is already with us; however, if it is the astronomical method you use, you will have to wait until March the 20th…. Either way Spring will finally be with us this month – and you might be lucky enough to spot a mad March hare….
Some believe the European hare (Lepus Europaeus) was brought to the UK by the Romans; whilst they most likely did introduce them to the rest of Europe (probably from Asia) there is evidence hares did not actually arrive in the UK until just after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Nowadays the European hare can be found widespread throughout Central and Western Europe and most of the UK – preferring flat countryside with open grassland. As they are more active at night they will rest during the day in woodland and hedgerows….
Hares are members of the Lagomorpha family and so are related to the rabbit, but unlike their bunny cousins they have never been domesticated. Although similar in appearance, hares are larger in size than rabbits; they also have longer black tipped ears, longer tails and longer more powerful limbs, enabling them to reach speeds of potentially 45mph – making them Britain’s fastest land animal….
Their breeding season is between January and August – and is accompanied by high jinx leaps, bounds and ‘boxing’ – (hares can jump backwards and sideways as well as forwards)…. We associate this mad behaviour with March but this is only because it is more visible to us in March and April. We also often assume the boxing is two males fighting – but more often it is the female throwing the punches….trying to ward off an over-amorous male – she may also be seeing how strong he is and deciding whether he is a worthy mate….
A male hare is called a ‘jack’, whereas the female is known as a ‘jill’…. She will produce up to 3 litters a year of up to 4 leverets at a time…. Unlike rabbits, hares do not live underground in burrows but have simple nests; the young are born with fur and open eyes….
Generally hares are solitary or live in pairs; the collective name is a ‘drove’…. Hares are herbivores, eating herbs, bark and twigs but mainly grass in the Winter months….they do not hibernate….
The hare population in the UK is under serious threat; since the late 1800s the numbers have declined by some 80%. Predators include foxes, weasels, stoats, polecats, buzzards and golden eagles – but the biggest predator of all has to be man. Traditionally the hare is a game animal – it is also sometimes considered a pest as it can cause damage to crops and cereal. Around 300,000 a year are shot in Britain; unlike much other game the hare is not protected by a closed hunting season, so even during the breeding season they can be shot. This in itself is a double whammy for the hare population as it means by killing the adults their young are left to starve….
Disease takes its toll; particularly European Brown Hare Syndrome (EBHS) which is highly contagious – (hares are not affected by Myxomatosis)…. Other causes of death include being killed on roads and by farm machinery – especially during grass cutting time…. Another major contributor to their decline is modern-day farming methods….in the last 50 years 150,000 miles of hedgerow have been destroyed in the UK – depriving the brown hare of shelter and food….
These wonderful creatures have been around since the time of the dinosaurs (proven by fossil evidence)…. It would be unthinkable to allow the European brown hare to disappear from Britain altogether – the least we can do is to stop shooting them!
I have only ever seen a live badger in the wild once – and that was just a fleeting glance…. Actually, the badger (Meles meles) is one of the UK’s most widespread wild animals and just as common as the fox – just far more elusive….
When I did finally get to see a badger close-up for the first time, I was amazed at the power and strength of the creature…. It was during a visit to the British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield, Surrey, when I was delighted that we had the opportunity to witness one of the resident badgers being fed…. Boy, was that chappie eager for his food….a bit like someone else we know….
Lewes, our ‘a little bit dim’, food obsessed cat has recently started to refuse to come in at night. Up until this point, this hasn’t worried me too much, as he doesn’t go far (unlike his sister) – he prefers to dither around in the garden…. The other night, during the wee hours, the whole household was awoken by the most almighty din outside….a blood curdling screaming…. Assuming Lewes had got himself into a spot of bother with another cat, John shot outside – only to be confronted with Lewes, involved in a punch-up with a young badger…. The noise was horrendous…. Thankfully, at John’s appearance, the fight instantly broke up and the badger scurried off; neither animal appeared to have sustained any damage – Lewes can thank his lucky stars it was a young badger; only a cat with suicidal tendencies will contemplate taking on an adult badger…. Generally, badgers are peaceful animals, they do not go about picking fights with cats; I can only assume the pair came across each other accidentally…. The noise the badger was emitting tells this tale…. When threatened, a badger will give out deep growls, it will bark when surprised – but if it is truly frightened, it will scream in a piercing manner…. I don’t blame this little fella for being terrified – Lewes can be a very scary cat sometimes….(although it’s a good job it wasn’t Lola)….
It’s not the first time a badger has made itself known here…. A few months ago John arrived home particularly late from work to find a badger sniffing around the back door….
Badgers are one of our most beloved animals; children’s tales often involve them – Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter for example….even Rupert the Bear…. Badgers are native to all Europe and parts of West Asia – it is our largest land predator here in the UK. Part of the Mustelidae family, which includes otters, weasels and stoats, the badger has a status of ‘least concern’ in the conservation stakes; there are some 250,000 adults in this country….
Badger Ian Blacker via Foter.com / CC BY-ND Original image URL: https//www.flickr.com/photos/ianblacker/2501226765/
That said, they are protected by law…. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 states it is an offence to interfere with a sett or take possession of a live badger (other than to assist an injured or sick animal)…. Conviction for badger baiting can carry a 6 month jail sentence, a fine of up to £5,000 and a ban from keeping dogs…. Once a popular blood sport, badger baiting is a completely barbaric act; badgers are caught alive, put into boxes and dogs set upon them – totally senseless….just like all blood sports….not wishing to be controversial – but everyone’s entitled to an opinion…. Even back as far as the early 1800s badger baiting was recognised as being cruel – The Cruelty to Animals Act 1835….
On looking into the private life of a badger, it is surprising at how social this animal is – they value family, just as we do…. Badgers are nocturnal, explaining why we see so little of them. They live in underground burrows, called setts, which they inherit from their parents; each generation adds to and expands it…. Some well established setts can be centuries old….
Badgers live together in groups; the males are called ‘boars’ and the females ‘sows’…. On average there are roughly 6 adults in a family, although as many as 23 have been recorded. Usually a pair will mate for life; sexual maturity in boars is usually between 12-15 months but it can be up to 2 years – sows normally begin to ovulate in their second year. Mating can happen at any time of the year but the peak is February to May….the babies are born in the following spring, with a litter size of up to 5….
When the cubs arrive they are pink with silvery coloured fur but darker hairs begin to appear within a few days. They weigh between 2.5-4.5oz and their eyes remain closed until they are around 4-5 weeks old. It is also about this time they get their milk teeth, they will have their adult teeth by 4 months and begin to wean at 12 weeks, although they may still suckle until they are 5 months old. They emerge from the burrow after 8 weeks – less than 50% survive through to adulthood…. Only mature sows breed, immature females will help with child-rearing responsibilities….cubs tend to remain with the family group after reaching adulthood….
There is definitely a hierarchy amongst the families sharing a sett; larger boars will show dominance over smaller ones…. Generally, badgers show an enormous tolerance of others, both within the immediate group and outside it…. It is mainly the males that show territorial aggression; during the mating season, males may try their luck in a neighbouring territory…. The size of a territory can range from 30 hectares – (where there is plenty of food available) – to 150 hectares in sparser conditions. When fighting, badgers will attempt to bite the neck and rear end of their opponent whilst chasing them…. Sometimes, wounds can prove to be fatal….
A larger territory may have several setts – the burrows are divided into areas for sleeping, nesting etc.
They even have special latrine areas where the badgers do their ‘business’…. Badgers are extremely clean animals and are very fussy about hygiene…. Soiled bedding is regularly removed and replaced with fresh grass, bracken and leaves…. If a badger dies within the sett, sometimes the chamber is sealed-off, like a tomb; other times, the rest of the family will drag the body out and bury it…. Occasionally, the burrow is shared with other animals, such as foxes and rabbits; although rabbits will choose areas that are furthest away and least accessible from the main living quarters, as young rabbits are in fact prey to badgers….
Being omnivores, badgers have a varied diet; mainly it consists or earthworms, large insects, slugs and snails, roots, cereals and fruits, such as blackberries. They will hunt small mammals; mice, shrews, moles, baby rabbits, squirrels, hedgehogs. They are able to destroy a wasps nest and eat the contents; their thick skins and hair protecting them from the stings…. Very occasionally, although usually only because food is scarce, they will take domestic chickens – but this is rare….
There have been accounts of badgers being tamed…. They can be affectionate and it is possible to train them to come when called; apparently they can make a loving and loyal pet. However, they don’t generally tolerate living with cats and dogs and will chase them : (did you hear that, Lewes? Guess we wont be inviting your new ‘friend’ to move in here, then)….
In the Middle Ages badger meat was held in high esteem – but back then people ate just about anything…. Nowadays, badger hair is used to make shaving brushes; occasionally, wild hair is used but mostly it comes from animals farmed in China especially for the purpose. The Scottish sporran is also traditionally made from badger fur….
Badgers can live up to 14 or 15 years in the wild, although 3 years is the average lifespan. They have no natural predators here in the UK; the main danger posed to them is us, mankind…. 50,000 badgers a year are killed on our roads….
Then there is the controversial subject of badger culling….
TB was first observed in badgers living in Switzerland in 1951. It was discovered in British badgers in 1971 when linked to an outbreak of bovine TB in cows…. It is debatable as to whether culling will eliminate TB in cattle; many feel there is not enough scientific evidence available to warrant a cull. Vaccination against bovine TB is thought to be the way forward….
I, for one, am chuffed to know we have badgers living close by – I just hope ‘Badger Basher Lewes’ hasn’t scared them off for good…. He is now officially on a curfew in the evenings, he is locked in long before it gets dark….
I am surprised badgers come into the garden, as there is no obvious through route – badgers are known to follow well used paths…. I can only imagine the food I feed to the swans is the attraction….
Being nocturnal, it is virtually unheard of to see badgers during day-light hours – but next time you are out and about in your local vicinity….look out for tell-tale signs : 5 toed foot prints, claw marks on trees, remains of discarded bedding, piles of fresh earth, dung pits, wiry hair caught on fences…. You never know, there might be a badger family sound asleep, right beneath your feet…..
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
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….
Helping in the garden….
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….