Swan courtship and bonding really begins the moment baby swans, or cygnets, are kicked out of the nest. At this point, they are almost a year old, but they will not begin mating until around 3. They join a flock of other, non-breeding swans and begin courtship. This is where the cygnet typically finds its mate. Like humans, cygnets are mostly monogamous but do change pairs every once in a while and also cheat. When mating season begins in early spring, the swans begin stretching and twisting their necks, dipping them into the water. This is their way of attracting the opposite sex.
Once a suitable pair has found one another, they begin the quest for a nest. Many build their own nests, but others use old nests from other animals. They are above water and along the shoreline. Although they might get more protection by nesting with the flock, most swans build their nests away from the flock.
Once the nest is finished, the swans begin to mate. They mate like other water foul. The male fertilizes the eggs inside the female. She then deposits them into the nest. The eggs are usually a light gray color and typically are lain in groups of around six.
The incubation period for swan eggs is around 37 days. During this time, the female spends most of her time sitting on the eggs to keep them warm. The male, however, does his fair share of work. He will incubate when needed, but he mostly stands guard to protect the nest from predators.
Swans care for their young together. In fact, in many cases, the male stays around for the next breeding season with the same female. When the first hatchlings arrive, many times the male takes them out for their first swim, while the female continues to incubate the rest of the eggs. When swans travel, the parents protect the cygnets by shielding them with their wings or allowing them to ride on their backs. The mother and father also teach the cygnets how to fly, which usually occurs after about 60 days of age. By this point, the feathers have filled out, and they are more prepared to protect themselves. It isn't until about a year later that the male and female turn the cygnets free. Then is the time to begin the mating process once again.
- Photo Credit pindiyath100 at morguefile.com
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