Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Swanwatch (2)

Sitting tight

I'm pleased to report that our swan is still sitting on her eggs which she will need to do for 36 days before they hatch out. Meanwhile the male guards the nest against all intruders. I think all those stories one hears about swans breaking arms must stem from people who got too close to the nest. Even so it sounds pretty unlikely to me. We did have a "rogue male" just north of Cambridge who took his paternal duties to extremes and used to chase rowing eights who were practising on that stretch of river. But mostly, even at nesting time swans are a benign and graceful presence on our lakes and waterways.

Guard duty

Males and females ("cobs" and "pens" respectively) pair up for life and, as far as is known, lead pure and blameless lives. They build the nest together - the cob collecting material which the pen builds into a nest and when the young hatch they look after them tenderly, passing them choice pieces of weed until the cygnets get the idea of finding food for themselves. Although they are known as "Mute Swans" they do make occasional low grunts and quiet whistling sounds but never kick up such an unseemly cacophony as geese are liable to do.

And how do we reward them for their excellent example. Well, until recently pretty diabolically. They were notionally all owned by the King or Queen, which while it protected them from the peasant classes, meant that the nobles could do much as they pleased. What pleased them was to pinion them to prevent them flying off, cut nicks in their beaks and feathers to mark them and eventually to consume them. Henry III is supposed to have ordered 351 swans for Christmas dinner - he must have had quite a party, we're talking about 3 tons of meat here! In the modern era we poisoned hundreds of swans by using lead fishing weights, which are now thankfully illegal.

So sit tight, Mrs Swan and, I hope,we'll have happier news to report soon.

Take care.


  1. Oops, I didn't think it would delete me, but I guess it did! On the days that I'm off from the store, I work on a farm. The geese on that farm are HORRIBLE!! They are just plain nasty! Swans seem to be so elegant. I've never seen one up close, I suppose I'll add that to my bucket list!

  2. Hi Liz
    So it was you who mysteriously disappeared into the ether. Nice to hear from you. I warn you in advance we have huge flocks of wild geese in wintertime - watch out for posts about them when the time comes.

  3. She's lovely. I hope the hatch goes well.

  4. Swans are just so, so beautiful. We see a few around here..


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