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365 Project: Day 1010/01/2012 - 4:24 PM
Took a walk along the Leeds/Liverpool canal today, not a lot to see only bare trees but the swans always attract my attention and I cannot resist taking some shots.
The mute swan is one of seven swan species found world-wide, and are our largest wild birds, weighing about 10kg, measuring 1.5m in length with a wingspan of almost 2.5m. The cob (male) is slightly larger than the pen (female).
The mute is our only resident breeding swan and they communicate by quiet grunts and barks, and their name probably derives from the fact that they are silent in flight. Their main diet consists of aquatic plants but they will graze on crops and grass on dry land.
There are around 30,000 mute swans in Britain. Numbers have grown by over 40% since the 1980's, thanks partly to the banning of lead weights used by anglers.
Swans are creatures of habit, often mating for life and breeding in the same place year after year. In early spring established pairs engage in elaborate courtship rituals and begin building their large sturdy nests from sticks and vegetation at the water's edge. In late April about 6 round, greyish-green eggs are laid.
During the breeding season the male becomes particularly aggressive, raising his wings and hissing threateningly whenever an intruder approaches the nest. As swans can deal a nasty blow with their wings, they are best avoided at this time. Rival swans, or indeed any other water birds with white plumage - are not tolerated in the breeding area either, and the resident male will drive them off or attempt to drown them by holding their heads under water. Whenever the female leaves the nest to feed, the male guards the eggs but rarely incubates them.
The cygnets hatch out a little over a month later, and at first they are covered in a soft ash-grey down.. This is soon replaced by the first brown feathers of the immature bird, and at this stage, with their drab plummage and short necks, cygnets do indeed resemble the ugly duckling of the fairytale. However, within six or seven months they will have developed the long neck and snowy plumage of the adult swan.
Swans are devoted parents, keeping a watchfull eye on their brood, allowing them to "hitch a lift" on their backs and diligently teaching them how to feed on the underwater plants which will form the main part of their diet. The family group remains together until the winter of the following spring when the juveniles are evicted from the breeding territory.
Young birds may then join flocks of non-breeding swans, and often remain in these colonies for 2 or 3 years until they are old enough to breed. They will eventually form a pair and bond and begin the search for a vacant nesting territory.
The image below is one of a family of four (parents and 2 juveniles) living on the canal at Saltaire. They are regularly fed by residents and tourists of the area.