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The swans that you are sure tol encounter in West DFunbartonshire are Mute Swans. Another two species can occur as seasonal migrants in the north of Scotland: Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus) fly here from Iceland and Bewick Swans from Siberia.

MUTE SWANS : Cygnus olor

Most of us realise that their name is somewhat inappropriate. They are hardly voice-less. But they do not have the distinctive calls that most birds have. Many of us have got a bit close to one and been hissed at. They vocalisation ranges from a hoarse snort or hiss to a rather muffled trumpetting when asserting territorial issues. Mates greet each other with a short, snoring sound, and females solicit their mates with a slow glock, glock call. Female swans call to their broods with a sound like a yapping puppy. When in a group Mute Swans growl, whistle, and snort at each other. Cygnets whistle a soft, low-volume contact call when preening or feeding with adults, and peep noisily at a high pitch when distressed or lost.

So much for being Mute Swans. 

We all love seeing swans on our waterways. Large groups may even be seen on the Clyde. Their completely white plumage of the adults is really beautiful. The male is known as a cob and the female as a pen. The male is larger than the female. The black knob at the base of the male’s bill swells during the breeding season and becomes noticeably larger than the females. 

Cygnets are grey and may remain a mottled pattern until their white plumage has taken over. They remain with their parents until adulthood. 

We don't seem to consider it much in Scotland, but all the swans are by tradition owned by the monarch. The assertion of this tradition is not really followed here, but in England and Wales it is confirmed with an annual ceremony on the Thames. This has been a law since medieval times. Such ownership is shared with the Worshipful Company of Dyers, granted to them by the Crown in the 1400s. 

Swans have few natural enemies. Foxes may take some, usually the cynets when small, but an adult swan can put up a formidable defence because of its size. Litter in waterways and particularly discarded fishing lines are more likely to threaten them. 

Proud parents with two cygnets on Loch Lomond.

A black and white photo emphasises the drama of the swan's plumage.

This is a male mute swan. The male swan is known as a cob and the female as a pen. They appear identical but the male is larger, with a slightly longer head and body and wider wingspan.

The black knob at the base of the male’s bill swells during the breeding season and becomes noticeably larger than the females. This picture was taken on the Leven in late March just as spring is beginning to be felt.

Most of us would prefer cornflakes for breakfast, but to a swan the slimy waterweeds just below the surface are delicious.

Swans usually nest close to calm water. Their nests are fairly large and the clutch of eggs can range from 4 to 10. Both male and female incubate them although it is mainly done by the latter. 

This is a swan nest with several eggs on the banks of the Leven. Usually their nest are built up out of the water away from the bank. This time the choice of location was not a good one. Perhaps because it could not fine a sheltered spot near the fast flowing river it nested and laid in a narrow thicket across the tow path against a wall. The nest was found abandoned; the eggs decaying. Was it disturbed by people and dogs? Or by rats? Only one appears to have been eaten.

A swan approaches a nest on the Forth & Clyde Canal in Bowling. Neither swan was sitting on the nest, let alone incubating the egss. They are known to be very good parents once the cygnets are hatched. Perhaps it was too early for them. This nest had been fenced for their security and they did not seem too concerned about people approaching.

A swan checks its eggs.

A happy brood.

A proud family on the Leven at the beginning of June.

Cygnets experiencing river life.

...and the follies of humans.

By mid-August (2023) the cynets are reaching full size. Their plumage is not yet white, but they are looking paler. The brood on the upper Leven started at 7, but was soon down to 5 probably due to bad weather, strong currents or predators. Now almost fully grown they can fend for themselves. These two have left the family to potter about near the barrage. The other three were seen the same day with mum and dad some distance further downstream. 

While gatherings of swans can be seen on the Clyde of up to 40 strong, most are seen in smaller groups on the Leven, Loch Lomond and the Forth and Clyde Canal. 

What a way to get your evening meal.

ALL ABOUT BIRDS : https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mute_Swan/sounds

MODERN FARMER : https://modernfarmer.com/2014/05/come/

RSPB : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/mute-swan/threats/

SCOTTISH WILDLIFE TRUST : https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/2020/04/mute-swans/

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