Mr. Swan and the Young Swan were seen again at Niles this past week, without incident, and seemingly quite comfortable with one another. I wish we could see the Young Swan take a sustained flight; she (or possibly he) will have a chance of surviving the winter if she can.
Tag Archives: Mute Swan
Is the young Mute Swan at Niles Pond a male or female? Based on outward appearances, the simple answer is we don’t know yet. Notice that there is no pronounced black knob, or protuberance, at the base of the young swan’s bill. Our young swan only hatched in the spring of this year. The knob becomes prominent at about three years of age.
After swans reach maturity, it is easier to distinguish between the two sexes when they are side by side. The male’s knob, also called a blackberry, is larger than the female’s blackberry, and too, his neck is thicker.
In case you were wondering, the swan’s bill will begin to change color at eight to ten months and it will not turn completely orange until the swan is at least one year old.
Compare the difference between the male and female swan in the photo above. Mr. Swan, on the left, has a larger blackberry, thicker neck, brighter orange bill, and is overall larger. He is with is his second mate, Mrs. Swan, and the last cygnet they hatched together.
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After a summer of what appeared to be a not-so-happy pairing between Mr. Swan and the new one, the two seemed to have turned some kind of corner. Whether the tolerance is temporary or not, this morning the pair were observed preening within mere feet of each other and the young swan, actually nodded off, with Mr. Swan nearby.
For the sake of this story and in case a romance blossoms, we’ll call her a she. Friends of Mr. Swan have been reporting that he was either very aggressively biting and flying at her, chasing her into the reeds on the far side of the pond, or possibly chasing her to teach her to become airborne.
Mr. Swan has spent nearly the entire summer at Niles Pond, and he may never again return to Henry’s after the terrible debacle of his attempted capture. The day before the recent southeaster wind and rain event, Mr. Swan took off to Rockport Harbor and was seen there by his friends Lois, Joel, and Paul.
The young swan softly crying.
I looked for the young swan at Niles Pond on the day after the storm and much to my surprise, she seemed very lonely. She was softly crying over and over again in much the same manner as I have filmed Mr. Swan when his mate was killed by a coyote several years ago. Her cries were quieter than his, but she definitely appeared to be searching, calling, and distressed.
Yesterday, Niles Pond resident Lyn reported that Mr. Swan had returned to Niles Pond. I’ll relate exactly what I observed this morning. The young swan was at the water’s edge, busily preening. Although she does not yet know how to fly, she certainly knows how to groom and maintain her flight feathers for future flying. Mr. Swan caught sight of me and began to swim straight towards us, with his feathers all busked out. She began to swim away from him as he approached and made it about thirty feet. He then flew directly towards her, but this time not in an aggressive way, but in a manner that herded her back to the shoreline. I was honestly very happy and relieved to see this because I really did not want to witness Mr. Swan attacking her again.
The soft colors of the first hatch year feathers matched the soft colors reflected off the water in the early morning light.
Both were now at the shoreline and both began to preen, only several feet apart, as if they had been doing this their whole life and it was the most normal interaction between them imaginable. I filmed them for a bit when the young swan grew tired of preening and fell asleep, with Mr. Swan keeping an eye out towards the water. Eventually Mr. Swan took off towards his friend Skip’s dock. She then awoke, but stayed behind near the shore.
Are they becoming more comfortable with each other? Is the young swan a girl or a boy (too soon to tell from outward appearances)? Will the young swan ever learn to fly, or is there something wrong with her wings? So many questions and only time will tell. I hope so much both will survive the winter without coyote attack (or some other tragedy befalls them) and we will be able to observe as this new chapter in Mr. Swan’s life unfolds.
Mr. Swan super stressed and panting while being chased around Henry’s Pond.
Mr. Swan Makes the Big Time in the Boston Globe!
Article by Boston Globe correspondent Emily Sweeney
Photos courtesy Kim Smith
A popular swan at Henry’s Pond in Rockport managed to stay one step ahead of rescuers who were trying to capture him Tuesday.
The elderly bird, known affectionately as “Mr. Swan,” has been a common sight at the pond for many years. During that time, he’s fathered many cygnets and outlived two of his mates, and led a peaceful existence on the water.
But things took a turn recently when Mr. Swan hurt his leg. Although he could still swim, some people began to notice that Mr. Swan was having difficulty walking. And they began to worry.
Soon enough, the Animal Rescue League was called in to help.
“The swan is considered a community pet, so the goal was to capture it, have it treated, and then returned to the pond,” said Michael DeFina, a spokesman for the Animal Rescue League.
While that mission sounds simple, carrying it out proved to be anything but. Catching Mr. Swan turned out to be an impossible task for the organization’s rescue team. Armed with large nets, the two rescuers — Bill Tanguay and Mark Vogel — used kayaks to pursue Mr. Swan on the water. At one point, Vogel almost caught Mr. Swan in his net, but the bird was able to break free.
Mr. Swan eventually sought refuge in the reeds, and the rescuers decided to call off the chase.
“The swan was stressed, and the soaring temperatures made him very tired,” said DeFina. “The fact he eluded capture and was able to swim without showing obvious signs of pain led to the conclusion that the injury may not be that severe.”
“After giving up the chase, ARL and the concerned parties agreed to continually monitor the swan’s condition, and if it worsens, ARL will be contacted to get the swan medical attention, and again, have him returned to the pond,” DeFina said.
Kim Smith, a Gloucester resident who counts herself among one of Mr. Swan’s many fans, described the rescue attempt as a “wild swan chase.”
“He was chased back and forth across the pond,” she said.
What made his escape even more impressive is Mr. Swan’s age. According to Smith, sightings of Mr. Swan date back to the early 1990s, which would make him at least 27 years old. (Smith knows Mr. Swan well: she’s spent the past six years filming him for a documentary film.)
“He’s an amazing creature,” she said.
DeFina said that the average lifespan for a swan in the wild can be about 10 to 15 years due to the hazards they can encounter (getting caught in fishing gear, getting hit by a boat, etc.), while a swan living in a protected environment can live 20 to 30 years.
“It’s clear that there are certainly people in Gloucester who care for this swan, if he’s in fact been around that long,” DeFina said.
Smith said that although the Animal Rescue League’s efforts were well-intentioned, she’s happy that Mr. Swan eluded capture.
“He’s lived this long, he deserves to spend his last days in his own neighborhood with his friends,” she said.
Long live Mr. Swan.
Emily Sweeney can be reached email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter@emilysweeney.
Meet the Swan family. They live on a pond in Eastern Massachusetts. On an island in the middle of the pond, Papa and Mama built a nest made of cattails, reeds, and sticks. For six weeks Mama and Papa Swan took turns sitting on the nest warming, or incubating, the eggs.
Within hours of hatching, the baby swans, called cygnets, are mobile. Precocial refers to animal species in which the young are relatively mature from the moment of hatching. Within a day or two, Mama and Papa take the cygnets to water for their first swim.
Unlike songbirds, which are born naked, blind, and helpless, cygnets are born with downy soft feathers and with their eyes open. Piping Plovers are another example of a bird species that is precocial. The cygnets will soon outgrow the soft down.
Two week old swans are sleeping on the bank of the pond. Although cygnets are precocial and relatively independent, they are unable to regulate their body temperature. They rely on warmth from Mom and Dad, and from snuggling each other during nap time.
Cygnets absorb the last of their yolk into their tummies before hatching, which means they don’t have to eat for several days. Their first meal might be a nibble of an insect caught along the water’s edge.
See the little tiny V-shaped wing bud, tucked over the bill. Notice how much proportionately larger are an adult swan’s wings (below). Cygnet’s wings grow rapidly. They usually learn to fly by early fall, at about five months old.
An adult swan’s bill has jagged, serrated edges that look like small teeth and are very sharp. Nesting swans can be very aggressive. They will hiss, puff out their feathers to appear larger, flap their wings, move very quickly when angered, and smash their body and wings at a perceived predator. Swans will bite and peck, too. Please keep a safe distance when observing swans, especially nesting swans.
We friends of Mr. Swan think he is practically a genius. You would have to be, to survive the oftentimes inhospitable shores of Cape Ann. And, too, he is well over twenty years old and has out lived two mates!
Mr. Swan at Brace Cove
Mr. Swan is a species of swan called a Mute Swan, which do not migrate great distances. Instead, they move around from body of water to body of water within a region. When Mr. and Mrs. Swan were raising their young, by mid summer, when food was becoming less plentiful and water levels receding at Henry’s Pond, the entire swan family–mom, dad, and all the cygnets–would travel for the remainder of the breeding season to Niles Pond, a larger pond with a more plentiful supply of aquatic vegetation. Several weeks ago, the brackish water of Henry’s Pond thawed. Mr. Swan returned to the Pond, but then with a stretch of cold weather, it quickly refroze. He headed over to Pebble Beach to forage for food in the saltwater cove. This week, sensing the coming nor’easter, Mr. Swan moved over to Rockport Harbor, which rarely freezes, is less rough than Pebble Beach, and where a supply of food is readily available. Whether a September hurricane or March blizzard, Mr. Swan rides out the storm tucked in along the edge of pond or harbor.
Don’t you find it very interesting that although not indigenous to this country, Mute Swans have adapted many strategies for surviving our changing seasons, and with the seasonal changes, the differing types of, and amounts of, food available.
If you see Mr. Swan at any of our local bodies of water, please be very kind to him. Dogs, no matter how well meaning, will make any swan feel threatened. And please, if you must feed him, only feed him whole corn. No junk food ever. Swan junk food includes bread, crackers, chips, and Doritos. In all the years that I have been filming Mr. Swan, never once have I fed him. Mr. Swan has friends, wonderfully kind stewards, who regularly look after his well-being, supplementing his native diet of pond greens and seaweed with cracked corn, and that is quite sufficient for his good health.
Thank you everyone for looking out for Cape Ann’s one and only Mr. Swan!
My husband Tom suggested that I write a year-end post about the wildlife that I had photographed around Cape Ann. Super idea I thought, that will be fun and easy. Many hours later (not realizing how daunting) the following is a collection of some favorite images from this past year, beginning with the male Snowy Owl photographed at Captain Joe’s last winter, to December’s Red-tailed Hawk huntress.
Living along the great Atlantic Flyway, we have been graced with a bevy of birds. Perhaps the most exciting arrival of all occurred when early summer brought several pairs of nesting Piping Plovers to Gloucester’s most beloved (and most highly trafficked) of beaches, Good Harbor Beach. Their story is being documented on film.
Work on Mr. Swan’s film will also resume this January—the winters are simply not long enough for all I have planned!
While photographing and filming Red-winged Blackbirds this past spring, there was a face-to-face encounter with a hungry coyote, as well as several River Otter sightings.
The summer’s drought brought Muskrats out from the reeds and into full view at a very dry Henry’s Pond, and a short film about a North American Beaver encounter at Langsford Pond. Numerous stories were heard from folks who have lived on Cape Ann far longer than I about the extraordinary number of egrets, both Snowy and Great, dwelling on our shores.
There were few Monarch sightings, but the ones seen thankfully deposited eggs in our garden. Thank you to my new friend Christine who shared her Cecropia Silkmoth eggs with me and thank you to the countless readers who have extended an invitation to come by and photograph an exciting creature in their yard.
Pristine beaches, bodies of fresh water, and great swathes of protected marsh and woodland make for ideal wildlife habitat, and Cape Ann has it all. With global climate change pushing species further away from the Equator, I imagine we’ll be seeing even more creatures along our shores. Butterfly and bee populations are overall in decline, not only because of climate change and the use of pesticides, but also because of loss of habitat. As Massachusetts has become less agrarian and more greatly forested, fields of wildflowers are becoming increasingly rare. And too fields often make the best house lots. Farmers and property owners developing an awareness of the insects’ life cycle and planting and maintaining fields and gardens accordingly will truly help the butterflies and bees.
The images are not arranged in any particular order. If you would like to read more about a particular animal, type the name of the animal in the search box and the original post should come up.
Mr. Swan has resumed his habit of traveling from body of water to body of water within his territory. Why does he not travel during the summer months, primarily dwelling at Niles Pond? Swans molt each summer and during the molting period, they cannot fly.
Mute Swans molt when their cygnets cannot fly. The female (pen) begins to molt almost immediately after the young hatch. The male, or cob, waits until the female’s flight feathers have grown back completely. The reason for this staggered molting period is because swans use their wings in battle and to defend their young. The swan family will never be left defenseless with at least one of the pair’s set of wings fully functional. The molting period lasts anywhere from four to seven weeks.
Cape Ann marshes are coming to life, in spite of the snowy days and unseasonably cold temperatures. Choristers make themselves readily known with their mating songs and with still bare tree limbs, they are fairly easy to spot.
Sing, sing, sing!
Turn up your volume and listen for the male Red-winged Blackbird song in the instagram below, just audible enough through the noisy Mallards quacking.
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!
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
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.
The swans are returning to Cape Ann ponds and marshes!
During periods of extremely cold weather Mute Swans depart our region to search for vegetation to forage for at unfrozen bodies of water. The deep freeze of this past winter was especially difficult for our feathered friends.
Note the fleshy black knob at the base of the bill. For most of the year, the male and female’s knobs are about the same size. During mating season, which we are coming in to, it is much easier to do a side-by-side identification to determine if cob or pen because the male’s knob swells and becomes more prominent.
Mute Swans have 23 separate vertebrate in their necks, which is more than any other bird, including other swan species.
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GMG Reader Denise Penta writes in the comment section of a previous GMG post “Exterminate All Swans” by 2015:
June 2, 2014
“In Rockport, MA across from Pebble Beach I enjoyed a male and female mute swan along with their 4 pens. Two days later, I returned to take more photographs and they were gone. I have asked the regular walkers in that area if they have seen them and to my dismay, they disappeared. At the same time, the ducks has 5 babies and now there are only 4. I also noticed many round indentures in the sandy water near the shore and wonder if an animal frolicked about consuming some ducks. I miss the swans terribly. I also drove around the waters where they are found throughout the summer, but to no avail.
Then after reading several articles, including this one, I learned what is occurring more frequently is that of hunting and removal by state and federal wildlife officials. State and Federal wildlife officials are removing Mute Swans and killing them so that they can open new habitats to introduce the larger Trumpeter Swan species which will in the next few years be used as a Trophy Waterfowl for hunting purposes. Wildlife budgets are experiencing huge deficits and now wildlife officials are trying to enhance these budgets by enticing hunters through Trophy Waterfowl which will greatly increase hunting and the cost of hunting permits.
We have been fighting with other entities to stop this killing and have successfully worked with legislators in New York to introduce legislation to stop the killing of Mute Swans in New York until wildlife officials can present true research instead of the false basis for killing the swans that have been perpetuated upon the taxpayer. Yes, the taxpayer is funding this killing and reintroduction of the Trumpeter Swans so that a few of the population can enjoy them by killing them.
I would like to know who in God’s name gave these people permission to plan the killings and replacements? The government does not have an all-rights to nature and without votes from the public, there should be great protests to such an elimination. I would be the first one with a sign if I find the government removed our beloved swans.”
Addendum from Denise: “I apologize, I clicked send before placing quotations from the source that I got the information from, so here is the site link to where I got the information.” http://www.stanley-park-swans.com/cgi-bin/ask/index.pl?read=7412
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s war on swans includes gassing, shooting, and oiling eggs on nests to prevent them from hatching. Their stated goal is to eliminate all 2,200 Mute Swans in the state of New York by the year 2025.
Reasons cited are that the swans aggressively defend their young, they attack other waterfowl, and destroy habitat.
Audubon New York and the NYSDEC plan to put forth their agenda to the New York citizenry with their education campaign.
Mute swans were introduced in the previous century to decorate parks and estates. Today, exotic species receive a great deal of attention and generate much concern. Oftentimes information around exotics is too simplistic. Some invasions are life-threatening, but they do not often set off an extinction. They can even spur the evolution of new diversity and strengthen an existing species.
I’ve read contrary opinions, and observed the opposite, to the reasons given for the swan’s extermination. There are a number of issues to consider. Where do our readers stand on this developing story? What have been your observations and experiences when encountering a swan?
The above photo is a lucky capture as I was actually filming the Gadwalls behind the swan. When the swan began to lift out of the water I quickly turned my attention toward it. The first two photos are the same; the first is cropped, the second uncropped so that you can see the tremendous scale of the swan’s body and wings in relation to its environment. The Mute Swan is the second heaviest waterfowl, second only to the Trumpeter Swan. In observing swans, I marvel in nature that a creature this heavy can soar majestically through the clouds and swim so gracefully through water.
Mute swans feed primarily on submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation and a small percentage of their diet also includes frogs, small fish, and insects. Because swans feed in deep water they do not compete with smaller waterfowl such as ducks. It is thought that food is made more readily available to ducks because the swans do not eat all the food they pull up. This seems logical and factual from my own observations at our local ponds and marshes. I very often see a wide range of waterfowl congenially feeding with the Mute Swans.
Note ~ Mute swans, which are a nonnative species, do compete directly for food with North American native Trumpeter Swans, in regions where Trumpeter Swans are indigenous (Trumpeter Swans are not native to Cape Ann).
For more photos, information, and video see previous GMG posts about the Mute Swan:
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A reader emailed inquiring as to where do the Niles Pond swans go during the winter months. The Niles Pond swans are Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and they are neither mute nor migratory. Mute Swans do not fly south in the true sense of a great migratory distance traveled, but do move around between bodies of water, and may move to a slightly warmer region.
Mute Swans swans grunt, snort, and hiss and their wingbeats make a beautiful throbbing sound when flying. See previous GMG posts about the Niles Pond Mute Swans ~
Several weeks ago in one of my posts about Niles Pond at Risk, I wrote about the beautiful Mute Swans at Niles. A reader wrote requesting a description of a phrase that I used, the “vibrant throbbing wingbeats” of the Mute Swan. I have shot hours of B-roll for both my Black Swallowtail and Monarch films at Niles Pond and at Brace Cove, so much so that I am making a mini film about Niles Pond. In organizing the Niles footage, I discovered some good audio of the swans throbbing wigbeats, filmed at sunrise.
The swans often take flight in unison, circling round and round the pond before returning. I patiently wait and wait and sometimes they don’t return, and as has happened more times than I care to say, while I am packing up my gear, they return and then I miss the shot for not being patient enough! Other times they will take flight and head over to feed at Brace Cove. A wedge of swans flying overhead is beautiful to observe, although a challenge to hold in my camera’s lens. Reviewing the footage I heard myself frequently cussing at the mosquitoes because their bite causes me to jag the camera sharply and then I lose sight of the swans. But one especially lucky dawn in September, I did manage to capture several flights.
Isn’t the music so swan-like? The composition is called “The Swan,” written by Camille Saint Saint-Saëns, and is the 13th Movement in a suite of 14 of the humorously themed Carnival of the Animals, Zoological Fantasy for 2 Pianos and Ensemble. See below for more about Carnival of the Animals from allmusic.
Watch on Vimeo if you prefer: