Ask the Swan Specialist

Challenges: Raising Swans From Cygnets
By:The Regal Swan
Date: 17 May 2007

Hi Carol:

Thanks for your question. Obviously, by now, you realize the daunting task that awaits you in this new endeavor. Sometimes as hard as it is, it is actually better not to intervene. This is really tough because the swans are cute and you are saving lives, but now you are going to face many challenges. I also want to caution other readers about undertaking this sort of challenge and to read carefully what must be done to try and rectify this situation. Additionally, most people do not realize that a swan egg can literally explode and do a lot of damage to your house or other structure (this was learned the hard way during our research), so this is not something that one wants to undertake. When mother swan leaves an egg, she means for it to be left alone!!

1. The cygnets should be fed poultry layer pellets and cracked corn. Use the smallest pieces and place in water. Swans eat their food in water and you must provide this specific mixture or you will cause the cygnets to lose vital minerals and nutrients and they can literally starve. DO NOT USE bird starter foods, this is a swan not a parakeet, song bird or any other species which we have had people try to feed with these type of
preparations. You will starve the bird. You can get poultry layer pellets and cracked corn at any feed store. Remember to mix 1/2 pellets to 1/2 cracked corn. Keep adding water as they eat so that the food is below the water line.

2. Cygnets should be given a dip in the water 24 hours after hatching. This will give them an introduction to water, a bath to get all of the egg gunk off and will help them strengthen their legs. Get a small rubber maid box, litter box or other similar plastic container and fill with about 1/4 of water. Place the cygnets in the water for a few minutes (5-10) MAXIMUM for the first few days. Their feathers are not waterproof and they can drown (SO STAY WITH THEM) during the water exercise. If they look like they are tiring, get them out of the water. Besides drowning, they can catch a chill and get sick, catch pneumonia and even die. Mother swan only keeps them in the water for a short time during the first few days of life and you should do the same.

3. For the first couple of weeks, they will remain rather small and manageable. They will grow 1/4 pound 1/4 inch every other day until they reach their normal adult size and weight in approximately 5-6 months. Since they are going to get rather big for their immediate surroundings, you will need to provide them with bigger space appropriate to their growth needs. Place them on towels or something soft.

4. DO NOT PICK THEM UP AND HANDLE THEM. Try to maintain a distance from them other than to feed and let them go into the water. The cygnets have probably already begun to imprint on you (and other humans). This means that the bird is going to be too trusting to people, predators and may end up being killed or injured later on. If you can get them to a knowledgeable wildlife rehabilitator, this would be the best thing for them and you because they are going to quickly grow and need more water time and space. They also make a copious mess because whatever goes in their mouths is going to appear to double and quadruple as it comes out the other end.

5. GET them to a veterinarian quickly. They must be pinioned (wings clipped) the first 1-3 weeks of life. After that, they may have to be placed under anesthesia which may not be to great on their system and yes, it can kill them. The sooner you get them pinioned (as many states require this if the birds are not native (Tundra or Trumpeter), the less time that nerve endings, blood vessels and other tissues have had a chance to develop.

6. GET them on grass and let them walk and get exercise. If they do not strengthen their legs and their body weight grows disproportionately, they may become lame and/or get spraddle legs (which is why you should not handle them). Towels are soft enough that they can climb and move around to also strengthen their legs and keep warm.

7. DO NOT put these cygnets back with the male parent. His job is to produce cygnets and protect them, not raise them. He will eventually sling them by their necks, try to drown them or stomp on them. He is not a babysitter so don't go there. DO NOT place them with any other adult swans or cygnets more than 2 weeks older than your cygnets. Older cygnets, not family members will also pick on them.

8. You will have to raise them until they are approximately 4-5 months of age at which time you can place them in a pen (half on land and half in water) on the pond that they will live their lives. They will need to be fed using a Blitz dog feeder filled with their food (you will need to teach them how to open the trap door to get food) and leave them in the pen for about 3-4 weeks until they understand that the pond is theirs. Once they are released, feeder stays in the pond so that the swans stay in the area. Hopefully, you place them in an area with no poisonous run-off, predators (foxes, coyotes, domestic dogs and cats, alligators, etc.) and they will live a long healthy life. They will also need to be vaccinated against botulism and west nile virus. The vaccination protocols begin at 3 weeks of age and continue every three weeks until they are 6 months of age. Then, they are vaccinated on a yearly basis.

9. Forget the research that states that they will choose a partner and mate at 3 years of age. They will start mating at 2 years of age, probably choosing one of their clutch mates, which means you are going to have cygnets every year up until the parents die. Swans can live for more than 30 years.

10. Find out the species of swan you have. If the parents have orange blls, they are mute swans and most hotels, golf courses, etc., may take them but you must ensure a safe and healthy environment or they will meet their demise after the best care that you have given. If they are Trumpeter or Tundra swans, they will have black bills and they may be protected and there are specific swan care takers for these species. The swan keepers may take them from you because you have to have a license since some states consider these species as protected. If nothing else, see if there is a zoo in your area or park that might take them. This may seem cruel, but remember, they are now imprinted and are going to expect and need help with food and care.

I hope that this is of benefit. If you need more information, The Stanley Park Swan website administrator is going to contact you and provide you with our direct email. We would like to know where you are located and the swan species and we may be able to help you place them. The Regal Swan

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Challenges: Raising Swans From Cygnets -- The Regal Swan -- 17 May 2007