Swan Life in a nutshell: The transformation of a vulnerable, tiny grey hatchling, into a huge white monarch of our waterways, under the devotion of a protective parent.
In The Beginning...
As few years ago I followed a pair of mute swans as they raised a family on the River Stour, in Dorset. I was going to see whole journey through, all the way from their tiny grey hatchlings, that used to love climbing all over their mum's back, to huge birds with six or seven feet wing span, that eventually flew off to pastures new.
Over a period of six months, I saw them most days, and as a result of the many hours spent with them, a level of trust developed that I never would have thought was possible between a pair of wild swans and an outside observer. We all know how swans can sometimes behave towards people, especially when they have young, but this case, I treated like one of the family!
On a typical visit, they would bring their cygnets over to see me, and I was allowed to observe them from close range. As the weeks went by, it was fascinating to see the various trials and tribulations that they went through as their youngsters grew-up from tiny grey balls of fluff, to huge birds, that were almost as big as their parents.
A Picture Story
The sequence of images shown below represents some of this family's story. Although they only scratch the surface of what happened as the cygnets developed into juvenile swans, I hope you get a sense of the interesting journey they went on and enjoy looking at them, as much as I did taking them.
The adults swans built their nest in an old, disused waterway. After well over a month of virtual non-stop incubation from the female swan, six cygnets hatched from their eggs.
The cygnets were at their most vulnerable during the first two weeks. And for that reason, the parents were never very far away their new hatched brood.
However, weeks of carefully building up the level of trust with the adults, resulted in them allowing the youngsters to come right up close to me.
They would happily feed and sleep in my immediate presence, sometimes, coming as close as a few just inches away - with the adults milling about in the background. (Sadly, not all six did not make it through the first two weeks.)
As a precautionary point, I would strongly urge you never get this close to swans, or their young. I was only able to do because I'd spent weeks slowly building up my relationship with the birds.
For most of the cygnets' rearing, it was the mother that spent most time with them; taking them to places where they could find food and a keep a watch over them when they were resting.
Dad's Prime Job
Dad's main role was to patrol their territory and protect his family. He would frequently be found at the top and bottom boundary of the stretch, making sure other swans weren't trying to muscle in on his patch .
In the following pictures one of the youngsters runs into a confrontation with a neighbouring male swan. If the adult would have caught the cygnet, he could have killed it, but Dad's quick intervention forced the other cob into a retreat.