Mr. Swan resting (trying to) in the early morning sun. Mallards courting make nap time difficult.
Mr. Swan resting (trying to) in the early morning sun. Mallards courting make nap time difficult.
Recently, one of the very kind people who regularly feed our resident swan, Dominic Nesta, pointed out that Mr. Swan is unusual for his blue eyes. I was surprised by his comment because I’ve only ever filmed Mr. Swan, his deceased mate, and their offspring up close, and they all have (had) blue eyes. Aren’t all Mute Swans blue-eyed I wondered? After looking at hundreds of photos on Google images and reading dozens of descriptions, Mute Swans eyes appear as, and are always described as, black, whether they are the English Mute Swan or the Polish variant.
Mr. Swan is of the Polish kind. Polish Mute Swans are rarer, mostly pure white, and with pinkish gray feet, as opposed to the English sorts, which have black feet and legs. Hans Christian Anderson’s Ugly Duckling was perhaps logically written with the English Mute Swan cygnet in mind, which are typically dressed in a mottled gray downy coat. Polish Mute Swan cygnets are pure white. Until I learned the difference I wondered how there could ever be such a story as the Ugly Duckling because again, I had only ever seen Mr. Swan’s offspring, which have always been exceptionally beautiful perfect little balls of fluffy white down (gray cygnets aren’t ugly either, IMO).
Cygnet, Polish morph
Polish Mute Swans (Mrs. Swan and Cygnet, Henry’s Pond)
A pigment deficiency of a gene in the sex chromosomes is what causes the whiteness (leucism). Polish Mute Swans were given their name when in 1800 they were introduced to London from the Polish coast on the Baltic Sea. They were at first thought to be a new species because of their unchanging color form (Cygnus immutabilis).
Our Mr. Swan is extraordinary not only for his long-lived life of well over twenty years, but also for his sapphire blue eye color.
Help needed from our readers–do you have a pair of swans in your area? If so, please email me at email@example.com. Thank you very kindly.
So many thanks to everyone who came out for my talk at the Cultural Center last night. Thank you to old friends who were there and thank you to my new friends; it was a pleasure to meet you! We had a wonderful turnout. The Cultural Center at Rocky Neck and the Rocky Neck Art Colony did a tremendous job hosting. With special thanks and gratitude to Martha Swanson, Suzanne Gilbert Lee, Jane Keddy, Karen Ristuben, Tom Nihan, and Mary Lou. The Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann thank you to!
I hope to see you at my talk at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck tonight!
Several weeks ago, in response to a question sent in by a reader that asked can swans drink seawater, we responded yes, because just above the eyes and under the skin, they have a gland that removes salt from their blood stream and concentrates it in a solution that is excreted from their nostrils. In the photo below, you can see sunlight coming through the nare holes, which are near the base of the bill. When the swan shakes its head, the salt is removed through the nares. Most species of birds have nare holes, which lead to the nasal cavity within the skull, which is part of the respiratory system.
Please join us Thursday night at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck. For more information on my illustrated talk”Beautiful Birds of Cape Ann” visit this post here.
Mute Swans typically bond for the life of both members of the pair. If one is killed or dies, the other will usually take a second mate. Mute Swans engage in an intimate courtship dance. The cob (male) will often begin by pulling up nearby twigs (perhaps to show he is a good nest-builder). The pair next bobs their heads together, stretching and intertwining their necks alongside and opposite to each other in a beautiful synchronized ballet.
Mute Swans mostly drink freshwater (and a great deal of it) because most of the places that you find swans living at are on freshwater ponds, lakes, rivers, and inlets. However, just above the eyes and under the skin, swans have a gland that enables them to drink saltwater. This gland removes salt from their bloodstream and concentrates it into a solution that is excreted from their nostrils, which the swan can shake its head to clear.
There are a number of good folks in Rockport and Gloucester who keep a watchful eye on our local swans. Thursday I had the joy of meeting Lois and Serena, who have been feeding and observing the swans for over twenty years. They have photos of Mr. Swan (known as Buddy in Rockport) dating from 1998. He was already full grown by then, which makes him at least twenty years old. That is quite extraordinary as most Mute Swans in the wild live on average only to twelve years of age.
My deepest thanks and appreciation to Lois and Serena for the time they took sharing swan stories, the reading material lent, and for their kind and goodhearted nature, especially towards Buddy/Mr. Swan!
As you may or may not have read here on Good Morning Gloucester, I have been filming the swans over the past several years for a film project. If you have a Cape Ann swan story that you would like to share I would love to hear from you. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much!
Nine Swans a-Swimming
After checking in with my elbow doctor at Anna Jacques Hospital in Newburyport, I took a drive along the road to Plum Island. I only meant to stay for a few minutes as I was planning to hurry on back to work on current projects but within moments of being there, a gorgeous Red-tailed Hawk was spied circling around. It was too tempting and I desperately wanted to stay longer and photograph and film but turned right around and headed back over the causeway. Halfway across a bevy of some sort of large white avian creature caught my eye–could it be–yes, it was a large flock of swans! They were feeding on the seaweed and seagrass along the Merrimack River shoreline.
Quickly finding a place to park I got out my gear and with a wide swathe of marsh grass dividing me from the swans, I tried to get as close to the water’s edge as possible. There were NINE swans in all, two adults and seven almost year-old swans. So much for getting back quickly. And was I ever pleased with my rule never to leave the house without cameras.
A passing woman from the neighborhood out walking said that this was the first time she had seen the swans at the river’s edge in over two years. For my swan film, footage of one year old swans was needed, and here were seven! Every cloud has a silver lining as I never would have been on Plum Island today if not for elbow injury.
I am sorry to report that there have been no recent sightings of Mr. Swan’s girlfriend.
Today at 9:30am while out doing errands, I stopped by Niles Pond to see if I could find my brand new glove, which was lost the morning previously. That Monday, the day after the weekend storm, the mergansers had moved overnight to Niles Pond to escape the wind and waves on the harbor and I had captured footage of Mr. Swan with the Red-breasted Mergansers. Last I saw him, he was alone and circling the pond, plaintively calling.
Just as I got to the spot where filming yesterday I looked up and flying overhead were not one, but two swans! They were flying towards Brace Cove. I hurried back to my car to get cameras, checking all the while to see if the pair would stay at Niles or continue up the coast. They circled back around Niles before landing on the far side of the pond. The large pure white male looks like Mr. Swan and his girlfriend appears to be much younger as she is comparatively smaller and still has some brownish-gray cygnet feathers.
I immediately called my friend Lyn to let her know about the swan pair swimming at her end of the pond. There was a large patch of ice that prevented the swans from coming closer to where she was calling them from shore but we did have a good long look and we both agree it could very well be Mr. Swan (Lyn calls him Poppa Swan and in Rockport he’s known as Buddy).
The pair of swans stayed, feeding on pond vegetation and moving slowly through the icy waters. Swans use their powerful breast muscles in a lifting and lurching movement to break up ice. It takes a great amount of effort to cut a path through the ice and Mr. Swan is much more adept at ice breaking than is his new girlfriend.
By a swan’s second summer (in other words two years of age) it will have lost all the characteristics of an immature. The brown feathers are gradually replaced with the white feathers. The last thing to visibly change is the color of the swan’s bill. A cygnet’s bill is blue/grey changing over the two year period to pinkish and then orange. Swans can breed as early as two years of age although most don’t begin until three years.
I can’t saw with 100 percent certainty that this is Mr. Swan because I didn’t get a close look at the distinguishing marks on his bill however, all signs point in this direction.
Note the young swan’s brownish feathers and greyish-pink bill (left). This tells us that she is not quite two years of age.
Daybreak from around Niles Pond, Brace Cove, and Henry’s Pond in Rockport.
Mr. Swan left Niles Pond yesterday morning and although he flew in his usual direction towards Henry’s Pond, he did NOT fly to Henry’s, which had become his habit. I did not see him at Henry’s, Niles, or the harbor this morning either. Perhaps he has flown to another region in search of a new Mrs. Swan. We can only hope!
See additional photos here of Mr. Swan, dead skunk, and more ~ Read more
Gulls departing Brace Cove after the storm
Great Blue Heron, seals, and gull
See More Photos Here
Mr. Swan is traveling between Niles and Henry’s Pond. I hope a new Mrs. Swan joins the scene before long!
Mr. Swan is slowly coming back to life and has begun to move around to his other pond homes. He is very lonely still and cries his plaintive cry however, one of our dear readers writes that when he lost his first wife about six years ago, a cormorant came and sat with him everyday until “Little Girl Swan” showed up on the scene (his second wife). Hopefully history will repeat itself. Mr. Swan is thought to be about twenty years old, which is remarkable for a swan in the wild.
Mr. (right) and Mrs. (left) sharing pond vegetation with ducks, Niles Pond January 2014
Thank you to all who have written, sent photos, and reported sightings. We’re so blessed to be a part of this wonderfully caring community.
Mrs. Swan and Cygnet June 2015
Have you ever wondered whether you are looking at a male or female swan? I had often until I learned that the male’s black protuberance at the base of the bill swells during the breeding season. Very recently, I learned that the fleshy black knob has a name. So now rather than calling it a knob, nobble, thingamabob, or that black protuberance above the bill, I can say blackberry, and you can too. That really is an often used term in Europe, their native home. The blackberry is also unique to Mute Swans; no other species of swans has this feature.
Don’t mess with Mama Swan!
Mute Swans are extraordinarily powerful birds and I have seen them turn on a dime, especially at this time of year when the cygnets are beginning to hatch. The above Canada Goose tried to make a landing but was immediately rebuffed, in no uncertain terms. Several times since, I have observed geese circling overhead, but as soon as the swan is seen, they immediately change course.
Early Sunday morning was spent filming along the water’s edge. It was a gorgeous scene and I observed dozens of different species of wildlife foraging for seaweed, seagrass, seed heads, and sundry other native plants and grasses.
I left for a moment to go back to my car to change a camera lens and when I returned, there was an old woman throwing crackers at the ducks and the shoreline was littered with the unmistakeable bright orange of CHEETOS. Seriously??? First denying she had dumped the Cheetos, she stared mutely when I suggested that it is really not a good idea to feed our beautiful water birds junk food. Wildlife face challenges enough adapting to climate change and habitat destruction; it’s just plain common sense not to feed them garbage. She had her dog with her and I wanted to ask if she fed her dog junk food, too.
A bounty of food for wildlife, at this time of year especially, grows naturally along the shores, marshes, and meadows of Cape Ann. If you are interested in feeding a particular avian species, find out what is safe and healthy. For example, the best food for ducks such as mallards are those that provide nutrients, minerals, and vitamins and they include cracked corn, wheat or similar whole grains, chopped lettuce, spinach, and mealworms. The absolute worst and most unhealthy are bread, chips, crackers, popcorn, and it should go without saying, Cheetos.