Abbotsbury Swannery celebrates its first baby swan in 2013

Down at Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset, hundreds of fluffy little cygnets are starting to hatch, with the first baby arriving today at 0745. The swannery is literally the only place in world that allows visitors to walk daily through a mute swan colony, see the cygnets hatching and, at 12 noon at 1600, take part in mass feedings.

The swanherds first noticed that hatching was imminent when the female swan, the pen, in number 2 nest started to get restless and began to hover over the nest, allowing the emerging cygnet to be able to peck his way out of the egg. The pen is now turning the remaining 6 eggs until they hatch.

Nest seven is expected to hatch later today. This mother swan was recently bereaved when her mate died due to a territorial dispute in the reedbeds. Swanherds put up a fence to protect her nest and were astonished when another neighbouring cob (male swan) swam downstream and ‘adopted’ her eggs as his own. This is highly unusual behaviour, said Deputy Swanherd Steve Groves.

He added: ‘ She was left on her own, and this cob was in the next territory and had no mate. Remarkably, he came down the stream and they paired up. Even though he is not the father of these eggs, he is behaving like he is, which is very odd – I have not seen anything like this in nearly 25 years of working at Abbotsbury Swannery.  This behaviour seems to go against what scientists call the ‘selfish gene’, where you would expect a cob to kill young that don’t belong to him. Staying true to the old adage that swans mate for life, we believe she will stay paired with him, and next year he will be able to father his own cygnets with her. ‘

The eggs in nest number 12 are expected to hatch in the next day or two. It can take cygnets between one and 24 hours to emerge from the egg. About 100 breeding pairs of swans at Abbotsbury Swannery have produced around 500 eggs on 100 nests, which will carry on hatching until late June. Swanherds feed the adult swans twice a day on wheat grains while the cygnets are fed three times daily on on chick crumb, a crushed pellet full of protein. Their parents also feed the cygnets algae, other vegetation and grubs.

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