Cygnets are at their most vulnerable in their first 8 weeks, when they are subject to being opportunistically preyed upon by grey-crows, herring gulls, herons, and even otters, mink or seals. The survival rate to adulthood of a swan clutch is less than 50% on Galway’s canals and Corrib river catchment each year. This clutch of 7 cygnets hatched on the canal behind the cathedral. Another clutch of 6 hatched on the canal at Mill Street.
Swan nests are usually on river banks or islands, a loose pile of reeds and grasses. The eggs, six or seven usually, though as many as ten, are laid in March/April and hatch in April/May. The female swan (pen) and the male swan (cob) take turns minding the nest, incubating the eggs. After 35 days of incubation, the cygnets all hatch within one day, and a day later they are swimming on the water beside their watchful parents. Sometimes they hitch a ride under the adults wings. The cygnet grows fast, but stays grey/brown for a year before their white plumage comes in, and then they have to learn to fly.
Galway hosts as many as 100 swans in the swan colony on the Corrib estuary by the Claddagh during the summer. We even have a swan-warden looking after their welfare. Please do not feed them white bread or mouldy bread as it gives the swans a condition known as Pink Feather which can prove fatal.
While they are numerous, only two or three pairs of swans nest in the city and raise young families each year. Most of the Galway swans over-winter on inland lakes where they have shelter from coastal storms and better grazing.
(Photos of swans and cygnets in Galway by Chaosheng Zhang who works at NUIG and takes and shares the most amazing photos. Photo of cygnets hitching a ride on the swan's back, by Andrea Whelan).
It is such a treat to see the swans each year, and I am truly fortunate to see them so often during my Walking Tours of Galway.