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Is this swan in trouble? what to look out for if you do see one?

Would you know what to do if you saw a swan out of water? Does it need help? Keep reading and find out what to look for? And know how to deal with it.The mute swan is one of Britain's most recognised and loved native water bird, it holds great affection with the British public.We are lucky in our county that they can be seen in many parks and lakes across Yorkshire.

The swan also holds records for not only Britain's largest bird but the heaviest with the Cob(Male) easily weighing around 11-13kg and the Pen(female) being slightly smaller at around 8-10kg

Our infrastructure and roads are primary causes for swan deaths in the wild, with power line strikes and vehicle collisions topping the list for swan injuries and fatalities. ​​Uncontrolled dogs and inconsiderate owners are also a real risk and do cause horrific injuries to swans in parks, on lakes and canals across West Yorkshire.

If you see a swan that is not near water. Please get in touch with somebody ASAP.

If you see a swan not near water. Please get in touch ASAP

Lead poisoning too is still a real threat even tho specific sizes of lead fishing weights have been banned in Britain since 1987. Decades of lead weights being discarded by anglers are still affecting swans in large numbers, they inadvertently ingest the lead when ingesting the grit they need to remain healthy. The lead shot then sits in the bird's gizzard and slowly releases deadly concentrations of lead into to the bird's body causing lead poisoning and if not treated most definitely life-threatening.

The birds' size and weight together with its constant close proximity to people is why most swans get injured or sick and find themselves needing assistance.

The swan's weight also means it is at the limit of flight, and if the bird should come down somewhere unsuitable or dangerous like a roof or on the road, the bird will need help.

It will likely be trapped and potentially in a life-threatening situation. It could also indicate that this bird is struggling in the wild or weakened in some way and needs help.

The swan requires plenty of room to take off, and they find it even more difficult to take off when grounded on land due to the extra effort necessary to gain lift to take off.

This is where you can save a swan's life if you see a swan away from water in an unsuitable place, please call for help straight away...............

Breeding and what you need to do if you see a swan family out and about.

Swan's usually choose a mate in autumn and routinely mate for life, the pair will hold territory, and the couple will violently defend this area against any intruders. Swans start to build a large nest consisting of a mound of leaves, moss, vegetation and twigs in late winter/early spring. This is where the Pen will lay up to seven eggs between April and May and the pair usually take turns to sit and incubate the egg for around 35 - 41 days.

Once the cygnets are hatched, Swan parents are devoted to their offspring. If you should encounter a family of swans, while it is a beautiful sight to see the cute fluff ball cygnets, this family needs to be given plenty of space and respect.

Especially if you are close to the family or walking with a dog (please do put your dog on the lead straight away) the parents will be protective of their offspring if they feel threatened, and will be more protective the younger the cygnets and a male swan can cause you or your dog a significant injury. But could also cause an injury to themselves which will put the cygnets at real risk if the parent cant feed and protect the cygnets.

Please don't take it personally, they are only exhibiting natural behaviour. Just simply ignore them and walk away quietly, and back off showing them know you mean them or their family no harm.

Remember its normal behaviour for them if you come across a swan reacting to your presence, it may puff up to make itself look much bigger, and it may also hiss with its head quite low and arched, this is a threat posture to warn you that it is feeling threatened, just avoid it and don't react.

Stay safe around swans by following our advice:


  • Just stay calm and change direction away from the swan to give it as much space as it requires not to feel threatened.

  • Stay away from its nest and definitely the cygnets.

  • Control both children and any dogs with you. Don't allow children or dogs to be loud and energetic around swans on land, this could unsettle them and cause them to approach to see you off.

Don't -

  • Try not to feed on the land, you are safer around swans at feeding time if they remain in the water, swans can be intimidating up close and can give a great nip.

  • Do not try to intimidate the approaching swan, remember the swan is exhibiting normal behaviour and could perceive your actions as a serious threat, and it could initiate an immediate attack response.

REMEMBER it is an offence under the wildlife and countryside act, to intentionally injure a swan.Do not Approach a family on land, the parents will be on more on guard as they are more vulnerable out of the water.

In autumn and winter, the adult swans will have fully now moulted out the feathers from the previous year and will be on the move finding a new mate or reaffirming their bonds with their mate for another 12 months. During this time this year's cygnets will be entirely independent of the parents, and the parents will push the cygnets out of their territory.

The cygnets will be still brown with white feathers Just coming through, these first-year birds end up getting into all sorts of trouble while they are getting used to the world around them and looking for a territory of their own.

The best way to age a juvenile swan is by the plumage colour, it takes a while for the mute swan to gain its brilliant white plumage, and this is how we age the young swan.

  • 1st year - Juvenile still retaining brown feathers with white feathers coming through.

  • 2nd and 3rd year - predominately white and larger in body size and weight and will be indistinguishable from the adult once it has gone through a moult.

The beak changes from grey to its adult colour with maturity and the young generally won't breed until its 3rd year.

Should a second or third-year swan be rescued, it could be in a worse situation and likely to have an illness or injury, opposed to that of a first year just finding its feet and getting into all sorts of trouble.

Troubles include disputes from other paired swans defending their territory. Swans can land in the most unsuitable places and can't take off quick enough when trouble finds them, especially if they are in an area with a high density of swans.

These birds may struggle to find a suitable place to learn how to be a swan and get enough to feed.

What are the rings you're likely to see on a swan?

The rings that you may see on the bird's legs are put on as young birds and used for research purposes and issued by the BTO(British Trust for Ornithology). The swans you see in West Yorkshire are likely to have 2 rings on and rung by The Yorkshire Swan Sanctuary that holds the list of all swans it has rung. On the right leg should be a silver BTO ring and will have a unique reference number on, and on the left leg, a large plastic coloured ring called a darvic ring and this will have letters and/or numbers that are unique to this individual.

Swan ringing was initially carried out for research into the effects of lead poisoning and used for movement data from swan upping that happens on the Thames in London every year and has done for the last eight hundred years.

Today's ringing is used for identification purposes in areas active with BTO ringers holding lists of individuals which rescue's groups like ourselves tap into to find out the history of a swan we have in our care, this helps us to decide the best option for release sites.

If you see a swan as talked about above, please get help, and if you can note down the number on the large plastic coloured Darvic ring, this will help tremendously in releasing the swan in the correct place.

Please call us - visit www.yorkshireaws.org and request help and get our contact details. You can call Yorkshire Swan Rescue contact details on their website just google Yorkshire swan rescue.

First published Sept 2017

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©2017 by Yorkshire Animal Welfare Society.