First Cygnets At Abbotsbury Swannery

The first cygnets have hatched at Abbotsbury Swannery and come out of hiding from the terrible weather.

Heavy rain and high winds kept the first cygnets hatched at Abbotsbury Swannery hiding in their nest. They have only just emerged to feed for the first time.

Deputy swanherd Steve Groves said: "Over the weekend it was the worst weather for hatching that I can remember, and I’ve been working here for 23 years.

"So when these first six cygnets hatched over the weekend, Mum kept them in the nest with her. That’s OK, because they’re born with enough reserves to last them for a couple of days, but they can’t all stay there forever.

"Mum might not have eaten much for days or even weeks, because swans really do stay sitting on their nests – and in the end it’s a choice between hunger and the weather."

All six cygnets finally clambered out of the nest when the sun broke out over Abbotsbury Swannery on Monday (30th April). 

The Swannery is the only place in the world where visitors can walk every day through a colony of mute swans, see cygnets hatching and participate in mass feedings at 12 noon and 4pm.

"It’s a magical sight," said Steve. "Every year, it never fails to warm your heart."

The mother of the cygnets is called Phoebe, the father Harry.

Steve said: ‘The old adage that swans mate for life is generally true, but not always, as we can see with these two.’

Staff at Abbotsbury Swannery keep minutely detailed records of swans, partly to help ornithological researchers at Oxford University. The records mean that it’s possible to trace swans’ life stories.

In this case, Phoebe is on to her third mate, having been widowed twice. Harry left another bird for Phoebe.

Phoebe hatched in 1999. She first paired up in 2004 but the two birds didn't breed and in 2005 her mate died. In 2006 Phoebe paired up again - but her mate died during nesting and so there were no cygnets. In 2007 and 2008 Phoebe didn't try to nest at all.

Harry, meanwhile, was born in 2001. In 2008 he first nested with another bird.

Then in 2009 he met Phoebe. But their eggs failed to hatch. In 2010 they tried again, and cygnets hatched on the 10th of May. In 2011, their eggs failed to hatch.

Steve said: "Now this year they’ve got six cygnets, before any other pair has even had one. And they’re among the earliest cygnets to hatch that we’ve ever had. Normally it’s mid-May.

"This Swannery has been established for nearly 1000 years but there is still always something happening to surprise you."

Abbotsbury Swannery was established in the 11th century by Benedictine monks. Legend has it that the hatching of the first cygnets marks the first day of summer.