Sunday, 21 September 2014

Mute Swans Mating Ritual

Mute Swans Mating Ritual 

mating display mute swans
Swan love - mute swans by annmackiemiller
Photo journal: A courtship display between two mute swans

Sometimes it is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time - with a camera. One morning, on a visit to Leeds, I spotted a pair of mute swans on the canal. I thought I would just take a couple of shots but was awed by what I witnessed for the next quarter of an hour or so. I watched a synchronised mating ritual. These are the photos, they are not very good quality I'm afraid but I still think they are worth publishing here. I hope you enjoy your visit.

Mute swans tend to mate for life although they will find a new partner if one dies. Their displays of affection are obvious if you take the time to watch them. They will greet each other by rubbing bills and necks and giving their distinctive 'cough' sound. I had seen that before but was taken by surprise by the tenderness of the courtship I saw here.

All the images on this page are by the author of the page AnnMackieMiller and may not be copied.

Adult Mute Swans

Adult male swans
Adult male swans
Source: Photography by annmackiemiller

A swan's courtship

I learned a great deal on that one day. I was on my way to a small nature reserve which sits alongside the canal in Leeds and going over a bridge I spotted two adult mute swans on the bank. When I stopped to look, they were preening themselves and I didn’t think much about it, thought I would snap a couple of pictures and that would be fine.

What happened next took me by surprise. I didn’t know male swans had anything to do with building the nest and to be honest I am still not convinced they do much in practical terms. Swans nests are untidy things, a raised jumble of twigs and grass usually. On the bank, slightly away from the nest, I noticed the male had started to pluck out grass and drop it behind him, not really building a nest, more showing the female he was a good provider perhaps.

After a few minutes of that, they both took to the water and what a ballet! The female is only slightly smaller than the male and sits nicely alongside him, you can mostly tell the difference by the size of the knob on the head.

This pair then spent the next 15 minutes in an intimate dance, bobbing and stretching their necks, intertwining and moving alongside or opposite each other. I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite so elegant from what are fairly large birds that are ungainly on land. I just wish I had, had a video.

Swans Grooming and Nesting

When I arrive both swans were on the bank grooming themselves. I didn't think much about it until the male started pulling bits of grass then sitting in what was obviously meant to be a nest before taking to the water.

mute swans grooming
Adult mute swans grooming

'getting ready for a date'

mute swans gathering nesting material
Male mute swan starts pulling grass for nesting material

mute swan in nesting behaviour
mute swan pulling grass for nesting - more symbolic than practical

When they took to the water I was treated to the most amazing sight. They spent the next quarter of an hour or so swimming beside each other, moving there heads and necks in sync, then intertwining them before mating.

female and male mute swans
Mr and Mrs mute swan

male and female mute swan courtship display
mute swans in sync

mute swans in mating display
mute swans mating display
dipping the head into the water like this is part of their courtship display
mute swans courtship display
From swimming alongside each other they move to facing each other.
 Mute swans mating display

mute swans in courtship display
Mute swans in courtship display

mute swans in mating display
mute swans intertwining necks in mating display

mute swans in mating display
Mute swans in mating display

mute swans in courtship display
adult mute swans

mute swans
Mute swans

adult mute swans in mating display
Mute swans intertwine necks and rub along each other in displays of affection

adult mute swans
' I luvs ya!'

Okay so mating was over in an instant and I didn't envy the female much, but before and after showed real affection between a pair that are mated for life. What a privilege to witness it.

mating mute swans
Mating mute swans
mute swans after mating
mute swans after mating
'I luvs you too'

mute swans
Mute Swans
Sailing off into the sunset

Facts about Mute Swans

  • Firstly, they aren't really mute - they do make sounds, most often a soft 'cough', hisses and grunts.
  • They are the most common type of Swan in the UK and are protected by the Crown. It is said that the Queen 'owns' all mute swans and there is an annual swan count in London every year.
  • You will find them on most places with open water: rivers, canals, large ponds and lakes.
  • They usually nest in the same place every year once their territory is established. They will lay 2-8 eggs and the female is the only one to sit on the nest with the male running protection.
  • They tend to be rather territorial and a pair, especially the male, will 'see off' any intruders. They will tolerate their own year old cygnets but only until they hatch a new brood.
  • Both parents care for the youngsters once hatched and you can sometimes see them riding on an adult's back when very young.
  • Once they reach maturity, the female will take the juveniles on a journey showing them more places to feed and possible near territories.

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