Funday Times


Introducing a series on ‘Animal Families’
By Smriti Daniel

Swans are among the most loving couples in the animal world. They normally mate for life and are
devoted parents. There are many different type of swans – there are Whoopers and Trumpeters, there are Tundras and Black Necked swans, there are even Coscoroba swans.

The most common among these though are the Mute swans – the Ugly Duckling in the story was one. Anyway, Mute swans are strangely named because they aren’t really mute. These swans are known for hissing angrily at anyone who comes too close!

A swan’s courtship dance is a thing of beauty and grace. When mating season begins in early spring, the swans begin stretching and twisting their necks, dipping them into the water as they try to appear at their most attractive. Once two love birds have found each other, they begin to look for a nest. Some will build nests of their own, while others will simply use old nests left empty by other animals.

The ‘cob’ (the male swan) collects reeds and sticks and brings them to the ‘pen’ (the female swan) so she can arrange them. The pair is fiercely protective of their eggs – The cob is never far from his mate in the nest. If you come too close he will hiss at you and charge you with his wings flapping. Watch out for that beak, it’s sharp! (A fun fact: this beautiful white species has the most neck vertebrae – 23 – of any bird.)

Sitting in the nest, the pen will lay 5 – 8 large, greenish-brown eggs, one every two days. She’ll then sit on them, keeping them warm for over 30 days. With their oval shape, these eggs are a marvel of natural engineering. They have to be very strong so that the mother doesn’t crush them when she sits on them – it would takes 26 pounds of pressure to break a swan's egg. To get out of its warm egg, a baby swan must peck at the inside of the egg for 24 hours before it can finally break through.

Soon after hatching, the young swans, called cygnets, covered with fluffy, grey down, leave the nest. Both parents take an active role in bringing them up – they will pull up water plants for them to eat and snap up little creatures on the surface of the water. A pen makes a sound similar to a yipping puppy, which she uses to call the young to her.

Its lucky for the little cygnets that they have their parents to look out for them – they won’t be able to fly for a few months yet. The family will stay together for over a year, and the cygnets will fly with their parents on the annual migration. Along the way they’ll be shown the best places to stop and where to find food. It is only by the end of the year that they too will turn completely white.

The cygnets will be ready to have families of their own when they three or four years old.

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