Of all the animals, I most enjoy watching the swans because you can really see the story of their lives unfolding. Swans are monogamous creatures, although researchers have reported a 6% divorce rate, particularly after a nest failure. So it's clearly not all smooth sailing in the bird-relationship world either, especially if you have problems with real estate. Each year, around November, there is always plenty of commotion on the waterways as the swans engage in what can only be called their version of speed-dating. The males and females all cavort around the lake with a great deal of flapping and honking. You can then count on the fact that a few weeks later, the pair who have "fallen for each other" will mate, a ritual which involves a whole lot of neck rubbing and twirling around and just about drowns the female every time.
By December there is nest building, which most often happens right in my backyard; evidently I live on a prime piece of real estate that is coveted by swans. Over the Christmas period the nest takes shape with all manner of leaves, sticks, twigs and, to my concern, the occasional can being included. And obviously, since a nest can't be locked, they never just get up and leave; one is in attendance at all times, you know just in case a robber came to steal a particularly comfortable branch...
Through January eggs start to appear, this year we had five, and as February rolls around they begin to hatch. There was one year that didn't run so smoothly, the swans sat patiently on the eggs for months, you could tell they were just thinking "this will work, this will work" but in the end all the eggs opened up with nothing inside, it was very sad to see how upset the swans were; they left and didn't come back until this year. Thankfully this time round, we had success! All five eggs hatched and one by one little chirping grey balls of fluff appeared.
If you look closely you'll see one little one is hitching a ride on mummy's back.
Needless to say, being a first-time parent is a throw-you-in-the-deep-end kind of experience and for the swans it was no different. Clearly. Because without sugar-coating it, they were pretty terrible parents. In the nest the parents would stand all-over the babies with their great feet and I watched in horror as the bubs were totally squashed. Not to mention that on the second day, after the five babies were born, the parents decided it was the perfect time for a swim on the lake, and not a quick dip mind you but an extensive venture that lasted several hours. Yeah, great idea mum and dad, you really thought that one through. They returned to the nest later, and after counting, I realised that one baby was missing - it wasn't long until I found it. The poor little thing was still stuck in the water and was clearly in distress as the bank was too high for it to scramble out. What was worse was that mum and dad seemed completely oblivious to the fact that one was missing. Hello, did you bother to do a head count? Sadly when we saw them the next day five had officially become four and I have no doubt that it was the littlest one that had fallen victim to the wild. Thankfully Mum and Dad seemed to pick-up their parenting game after that; I think they needed a reality check.
Four months on and I smile each time I see the little family swim by. The bubs are much bigger but they still have their fluffy grey feathers. They aren't around as much now because not long after February they moved on from their nest in my yard. Perhaps they had a stake in swan shares that paid off well and they were able to upgrade to a better property with more bedrooms and larger waterfront access.... Whatever it is, they seem very happy - things must be going swimmingly.
Photos by Krissie.