Baby swan sleeping.

Is This Mother Swan Burying Her Own Dead Cygnet?

Unfortunately, cygnets dying whilst being raised by their parents, are not unusual. But what was unexpected in this case, was the way the parents dealt with the dead body. After a careful inspection of the body, the mother swan proceeded to pick up vegetation to place over her deceased offspring, as though she was trying to bury it. 

 

Here are the photos I took at the time,  click on the images to enlarge.

The family arrives back from a trip down the river and the male bird sees the dead cygnet.

Keeping the cygnets behind her, the mother takes a closer look.

For a few seconds, she just stands and stares at her dead cygnet.

She then picks up some vegetation and starts to cover its dead body.

She keeps stopping, to look at her deceased youngster.

... and then continued, throwing vegetation over the body.

All the images you see above are in time order and you can see how the female swan (the mother bird in the Swan Life book) picks up the reed stems and throws them over her dead youngster. 

 

After a while, one of her other cygnets came up to have a closer look... 

As Dad takes care of the other five cygnets, one of the youngsters steps forward to be near its mother.

It then stands beside it for a few moments, just looking.

....and then settles down beside it.

Since the time of the event, I have shown these images to ornithologists and none of them had seen anything like this before.  

 

We may never know for certain the mother bird's exact reasons for placing the vegetation over the body, but considering  her visual inspection of the corpse beforehand and the fact that most of the vegetation she threw down landed on her deceased offspring, there did appear, at the very least, to be a sense of purpose to what she was doing.

 

In the book Swan Life, I describe the circumstances leading up to this event and what happened afterwards. To read more about the book, click here.