We stopped at this pond along the Colonial Parkway yesterday to take photos of Mountain Laurel growing on the opposite shore, but were delighted to find a family of swans living on the lake.
We see swans here from time to time, perhaps once or twice a year.
Always a rare treat, we were especially happy to find this pair caring for their cygnets.
These are Mute Swans, Cygnus olor, native to Europe and parts of Asia.
The Mute Swan may be recognized by his white plumage and orange beak outlined in black.
One of the largest birds, swans were introduced to North America in the 19th century to live in ponds on estates.
The wild Mute Swans found in North America today are the descendents of swans once imported to live as pets or as a food source at these aristocratic homes.
Domesticated and used for food in parts of Europe, the native population of swans was at one time nearly decimated. No longer commonly used for food, these beautiful birds have recovered.
Swans mate for life. The pen, or female swan lays an average of four eggs each spring.
The cygnets must be four to five months old before they are able to fly. Both parents stay with the cygnets, protecting them as they grow.
This family allowed me to photograph them eating in the shallows of the pond yesterday.
When a chatty group of tourists approached, the family took off for the center of the pond.
We returned today to see them again, and found them eating near the shore.
Swans eat roots, tubers, and leaves of plants growing in the shallows.
Notice the plant material in the adult swan’s beak. The family is foraging for algae, roots, tubers, and leaves of aquatic plants.
They don’t dive, but instead forage in shallow water for what may be growing there. Here they have cattails, Iris, grasses, Pickerel Weed and algae.
Mostly herbivores, swans will also eat grasses and seed crops on land.
Again today, a chatty group of tourists approached as I photographed the swans.
But instead of swimming off, the male stood up tall, paddling both feet, hissing and flapping his wings to frighten them away. This display is known as “basking.”
The cob swan is finishing his display of “basking” to warn off a perceived threat from other visitors. I was not quick enough to catch him with his wings outstretched and flapping.
Had the tourists not moved on at the warning, or had they tried to climb down the bank; the cob, or male swan, would most likely have attacked to protect his family.
Mute Swans earned their name by being less vocal than other swan species, but they are not silent.
They hiss to ward of threats, and make other sounds to communicate with one another.
Much like Canada Geese, Mute Swans have grown to such large populations in some areas, especially around the Great Lakes, that they are considered an invasive species.
Because they can be aggressive towards people, especially when nesting and caring for their young, swans are considered a problem in some areas in parks and on beaches.
Their population currently increases 10%-20% each year.
These swans can eat a great deal of vegetation over the course of a few months, as the cygnets are growing to maturity, and the family remain in place to raise them.
When the cygnets finally learn to fly, and the family decides it is time to migrate for the winter, they fly in a V shaped formation, much like geese. Flying with their long necks outstretched, they are also recognized by the rhythmic sound of their beating wings.
Virginia has mild enough winters that the family may decide to stay and skip the winter migration, just like our Canada Geese live here all year.
Beautiful and graceful, swans glide so smoothly across the water that one forgets that these large birds can be fierce. They are a novelty around Williamsburg.
Although we’ve found single swans swimming in ponds and along College Creek in past years, this is the first time we’ve spotted a family of swans with young.
There is abundant food and habitat to support a growing population of swans. The few predators who might threaten, like snapping turtles or foxes, are present in our area and will limit population growth to some small extent.
Judging by the ever growing population of Canada Geese in our area, predators are not a major problem for our local waterfowl.
I expect that we will spots swans more frequently in the future, and we will continue to stop and appreciate their grace and beauty.
All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014