Bird's Eye View of Bute

The Mute Swan

Mirror-mirror
Mirror-mirror
-on the hull
-on the hull
Loch Fad Cygnet
Loch Fad Cygnet
Loch Fad Family
Loch Fad Family
Moat nest
Moat nest
One legged swan
One legged swan
Original Moat Swans
Original Moat Swans
Swans 1
Swans 1
Swans 2
Swans 2
Swans 3
Swans 3
Swans 4
Swans 4
Swans 5
Swans 5
Swans 6
Swans 6
Swans 7
Swans 7
Swans 8
Swans 8
Swans 9
Swans 9

 

THE MUTE SWAN

The huge familiar, white water bird found on all types of freshwater, estuaries and on the sea, is the bird that we know as "The Swan".  (proper name  mute swan).

 

  These are birds that we know and love and will search them out to gaze at them and to feed them whenever possible.  They are very tame and can be approached easily, but taking care during nesting time as a direct hit from one of their wings will give you a very sore arm or leg for many weeks.  Every loch has at least one pair that will spend their entire life together. They are a symbol of grace and elegance, strength and power. Adults enjoy their beauty and elegance, and children look in awe at the size of them.

We are very lucky (?) that we have a pair that nest in the Castle area in Rothesay as it gives the public a platform to look and enjoy and feed them without causing problems to them our themselves.  When they first took up residence at the moat I did not think that it was a good move for them as I foresaw problems when it came to the time that their eggs hatched out. I was worried that dogs may enter their area and do damage to the chicks, or cause them to take flight too early and crash into the railings that surround the castle.  But my fears were unfounded, they had their chicks, They were well fed, and when it was time to go farther afield, they used the gate.  Sometimes a bit too early, as the chicks were still too small to survive in the open sea, so they were encouraged to stay indoors for a while longer.

 It must have been one heck of a job for the castle staff to keep them in, what with the public entering the gate, and the swans plus the cygnets wanting out. You would need a permanent gate man to control them at these times.How the adults can take off from the moat is an amazing feat. If you see them taking off from a loch, they seem to take forever to get airborne, yet here they are in an enclosed area with a very short runway and the take off with no problems. Strength, Stamina, and lots of Courage is what they have got, and  need to survive.  Unfortunately, there are fatalities with them as there are with all birds, and swans have more than their share of them.  

One Ended it's life as it attempted to leave the Moat.

  With power lines that are in the flight path of swans heading to, or from the lochs , or as in one case the power lines crossing over the loch at right angles from it's shores. The Electricity Departments do what they can to stop fatalities by attaching gismos to these cables, so that birds can see them before it is too late, and they seem to be effective, but a swan heading to the loch to roost, arriving at dusk when visibility is poor, then these cables will be invisible to them. The same applies to birds like Pheasants and Grouse. They fly low so they hit fences that can hardly be seen in poor light. And as for Deer fences, they are that high that they are responsible for a great number of death to game birds. What is the solution? Do we make fence posts and wire and netting out of  highly coloured materials? Although that would do the job I don't think that be accepted as the hills would look like a multi coloured swap-shop. Birds have many problems to deal with and this is just a few of them that swans have to contend with.

A really big problem is the split shot that fishermen use to weigh down their bait. This shot for generations was made out of lead. Lead was used as it was pliable and heavy. The problem was that it was also poisonous if taken orally.  As well as fishermen Shooters with their twelve bore shotguns with their catridges full of lead shot create the same problems as they go after geese, ducks etc, with umpteen thousands of lead shot hitting the water an sinking. And with fishermen losing  fishing lines with hooks, bait and split shot still attached, they would lie on the bottom with the hooks the first to rot, then the nylon line. But the lead shot would lay there for ever. It would be picked up by the swans and ingested by them. Death would be slow and painful, with them losing their appetite, and start the slippery slope to oblivion.  Nowadays they all can use  use a metal that is non toxic, but there may be thousands of the old type still waiting to be picked up  with the cygnets more at risk as it takes time for them to learn what is edible and what is not.

  A lot of cygnets die each year, with the cause of death being a mystery. In most cases they are big cygnets.  Big enough to cope with predators like mink or birds of prey. Also they have the added security of their parents to help them in times of trouble, as they are never very far away. At times,  adults that had four signets one day are reduced to two the next with no sign of the bodies of the two missing ones.. If they had swallowed lead shot and died, their bodies would not sink . They may have been eaten by scavengers, but there was no signs of bones etc.  Greater Black-Backed gulls have been blamed when the cygnets are days old, but these are big chicks, far to big for anything to swallow whole. It is a mystery as to what befell them, but some day the reason why may be obvious,  and a solution found to stop any more dying.

 The fishing line is another big problem. With fishermen getting snagged on the bottom or on sunken debris, resulting on the loss of all the line plus lures or bait. This line would lie there until a passing swan may get it wrapped around it's leg or neck as it feeds under water. This line will cut into flesh  and cause terrible injuries. A very recent cause was that a swan got caught on monofilament line on one of our lochs. It's partner went to help and got caught up as well.  As one tried to free itself, it was dragging the other under the water, which resulted in that one getting drowned.That was a very sad case indeed.  Another problem is that if a fisherman is using worms or maggots on his hooks and loses them, then the swans will pick them up and swallow them plus the line. Quite often they have to be caught and the line removed, if possible, or cut off at the bill and hoping that the rest will work it's way through.On a lighter note. Swans, many years ago were bred for eating, but as they needed to be near water, and the problems of catching them for the pot, they were replaced with domesticated geese.  So if they had been easier to catch, we may not be having Turky for Christmas these days.

                        Norrie Mulholland .

First published in the Buteman 2002


Pagehits: 1531 (Today: 1)