Do swans really mate for life?
September 14, 2012 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Will my friend the swan get a second chance at love?

Two swans used to live under a bridge near my house (just the regular kind of swans - mute swans?). Then there were big rains and one hasn't been seen since. The other one looks healthy enough but it makes me a bit sad to see him/her all alone. There are some cygnets growing up on a nearby pond and I am hoping that one of them might replace the lost swan. Is that likely? Google says that male swans don't re-mate, but how can I tell whether mine's a he or a she? Also, if one of the cygnets were to head on over to the bridge, at what age might that happen? At the moment they are nearly adult size but still have mostly grey feathers and are following their parents around. I think they were born in May. Thank you!
posted by superfish to Pets & Animals (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
To sex a mute swan, look at the bump at the top of the bill, and below the eyes. If it's big, then it's a he. If not, it's a she. That's why they call the he swans "cobs".

On the issue of mating, local lore in these parts says that they will mate again if they lose a mate. But that's only what local folk believe. The swanlings may well be chased away by their parents, however, so don't expect all of them to stay about.
posted by Jehan at 12:36 PM on September 14, 2012

I lived near the Palace of Fine Arts lagoon in San Francisco and we had paired swans and through various accidents, predation and deliberate bad acts by humans the one of a pair would die or disappear. A new mate would be introduced and life would go on...sometimes producing adorable cygnets. And then the circle of life would continue...
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:36 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

superfish: Google says that male swans don't re-mate,
Darwin says Google is probably wrong, since that's a terrible strategy - one death knocks out two healthy breeders. Bet on love.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:29 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agatha-magatha, thanks for sharing this. I remember when the swan was killed by assholes for fun. I'm glad things are improving and that the neighborhood is helping to keep an eye on things.
posted by shoesietart at 1:35 PM on September 14, 2012

A lot of birds (falcons, swans, ravens, geese, etc) that "mate for life" will take a new (usually younger!) mate when the previous mate dies. Sometimes it takes a season or two for them to 'get over it'. As Konrad Lorenz's assistant observed, "Geese are only human"..
posted by The otter lady at 3:48 PM on September 14, 2012

There were a pair of swans in a small pond nearby. One of them died trying to protect their cygnets from... I want to say it was a coyote. Anyway, the remaining swan was alone for about a year before it found a mate. It was really heartwarming.
posted by jerseygirl at 6:30 PM on September 14, 2012

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