Trekking Swans

In early June a pair of swans (6A6 and mate) had three cygnets that had hatched on a wetland pond near Ovando (see previous blog post).  When they were less than a week old, the entire family disappeared from the wetland.  I could imagine two possible scenarios to explain their disappearance: either something had caused the death of all the cygnets, and the parents had moved to another wetland since there was nothing to tie them down, or the entire family was in a nearby location out of sight.  I spent the next couple of weeks searching wetlands and lakes in the area for any of these swans, to no avail.  They were also not visible to a swan observer in a small plane who searched for them at the end of June.  Because the cygnets were only a few days old when they vanished, I was beginning to worry that they must have been eaten and the adults moved far away.

Then in early July, just less than one month after they had hatched, I saw the pair with two cygnets in a wetland over a mile and a half away!  This is a wetland with lots of cattails and other heavy vegetation and little open water, so it can be very difficult to see swans when they are there.  It was the one location I still held out hope for finding them, as the pair spent quite a bit of time feeding there before nesting and even while incubating.

The big question of where they were was solved, but others remain!  How did the parents successfully get 2 out of 3 very small, young cygnets to walk a mile and a half?  Even by travelling down a small creek to reach there, they would still have had to trek for over 3/4 mile across the open prairie to reach the relative safety of water.  In addition to the coyotes, foxes, mink, otters, bobcats, lions, hawks, and owls that are in this area, they would have made the journey a short distance from a Bald Eagle nest with a hungry eaglet urging its parents to bring food.  They would have had to cross under at least two electric fences.  And why did the parents feel it necessary to nest in one wetland but soon move to another?

Swans have been known to move cygnets from one wetland to another, and it is likely due to the best nest site not necessarily coinciding with the best feeding habitat.  But it still seems like a tremendous risk to take in moving them.  I’m just thrilled that they were able to do it without losing more than one!

At a month and a half old, the cygnets are still less than 1/4 the size of the adults and downy gray.  But they are growing quickly and less vulnerable to depredation by the day.