Swans are an essential part of the English natural landscape, often found grooming themselves on village ponds or flying overhead. Mute swans (owned by the King) are actually noisy (!), and you may also see whooper swans (migrate from Iceland) and black swans on private land (native to Australia). Swans mate for life, but will try to find another mate, if one mate dies or disappears.
Excellent parents, swans will hiss (they have no teeth) to chase away predators. It’s a myth they can normally break your arm (unless you have weak bones or are a child). But they will put up a blustery fight to protect their cygnets. Young swans have many predators (pike, heron, mink and fox), but the main hazard is humans. One swan recently died of a broken heart, after hooligans smashed her eggs.
Join the campaign to stop HS2. This high-speed rail network will kill 22,000 wildlife annually (stats from France’s similar TGV). We don’t need faster trains, we need better train services in areas without them. The project won’t prevent climate change, and many new stations are planned to be airport hubs? Swans often think train tracks are rivers (in rainy weather), and will travel down flooded areas with their cygnets.
How to Help Our Beautiful Swans
- Swans can fly fast, but need a good run to get going, due to their weight. So often they get disorientated near roads, resulting in broken wings or electrocution from power lines. Ask your council to install bird diverters, which swans can see.
- Anglers should take all fishing waste with them. Store in a Monomaster (a little gadget that unlike most fishing line bins does not attract birds for nesting). Then at home you can take off the cap, take out the spindle, cut the line and throw it away securely Lead shot was banned a few years ago, but still lurks in some river beds.
- Oil spill cause birds to lose insulation and waterproofing of feathers, so they may freeze or drown. So recycle used oil (use a funnel to change oil) and use a waterless car wash (or use professional car wash stations that recycle the water) to stop mini-oil-spills from home and supermarket car washes. Also use a funnel to change antifreeze in enclosed spaces (lethal to pets and wildlife, ideally get your mechanic to do it). In case of a spill, use kitty litter to soak it up (don’t mop it, you’ll spread the spill further).
- Councils can provide better water and field tests, to prevent slow-running water in warm weather. This can help to stop botulism (why babies should not have honey) that is lethal to swans.
- We love dogs, but they are natural predators of swans, so keep them away (and on leads) from swans, for the safety of both creatures.
- Don’t use plastic bags near waterways (or anywhere) as they can choke wildlife if blown away). For picnics, choose beer cans wrapped in cardboard instead of plastic rings (these are invisible in water).
- Never release balloons. Even ‘biodegradable latex’ ones take six months to break down, and before that most explode into millions of pieces, and fall to the sea or ground. Fire lanterns leave behind metal spikes that injur wildlife (and also cause wildfires and get mistaken for flares by coastguards).
- Kite string can trap around the necks of birds, and even slice off their wings. Expert advice is to not fly them. Or use biodegradable kites (avoid at dawn and dusk, when birds mostly fly).
- Found an inured swan or cygnet? Contact your local swan sanctuary, local wildlife rescue or vet. Swan sanctuaries welcome enquiries from landowners with ponds (and no natural predators nearby) so rescued swans can live out their lives in peace and safety.
- It’s a criminal offence to harm swans. Contact Wildlife Crime Unit, Animal Crimewatch, Crimestoppers (anonymous), RSPCA or the Police.
Should You Feed Bread to Swans?
It’s a nice tradition to feed bread to swans, but in most cases they can find food under the water (fish, tadpoles, pondweed, grubs and insects). Encouraging swans to depend on humans for food makes them vulnerable to traffic, dogs and power lines. Also if you were to stop (move away, die) they could starve.
A little fresh wholemeal bread (soaked and torn into small pieces, as swans have no teeth) may not harm. But England has around 55 million people. So if everyone does this, that’s feeding way too much ‘human food’ and a lot of fed bread is dangerous (mouldy, stale, crusty bread, crackers, pizza etc). Bread with fat (leftover buttered sandwiches etc) can also smear on feathers, negatively affecting waterproofing and insulation of feathers, so birds could freeze or drown. Other foods you should never feed swans include:
- Sugary or salty foods (pastries, crisps)
- Raw meat or cooked bones
- Fatty foods (meat, chips, cooked bones)
- Garlic, onion, mushrooms
- Apples, dried beans or pulses
If you occasionally feed swans, Swan Sanctuary recommends (very small amounts) of fresh fresh (soaked) wholemeal bread, tinned/defrosted sweetcorn/peas or torn lettuce, cabbage or spinach. Throw food on the water (so birds stay in their natural environment) and are less likely to choke on dry ingredients. Uneaten food can cause algae and disease. If already feeding swans regularly, gradually reduce artificial feeding in summer (when there is plenty of natural food around), to avoid them relying on you for food.
If you can add a great beauty to something which is already beautiful, then you must be very beautiful – like a white swan adding beauty to a misty lake. Mehmet Mura ildan
I’ve developed into quite a swan. I’m one of those people that will probably look better and better as I get older – until I drop dead of beauty. Rufus Wainwright