The loneliness of the Black Swan…a story of loss and rejection

While the joys of Spring burst out over much of the campus, for at least one resident it is a pretty sad and lonely time. The widowed Black Swan…Until 2014 there were a pair of Black Swans on the lake. Birds that largely bond for life, and introduced as opposed to native in the UK, the loss of either is a real blow. And in late 2014 the male died. So now there is a single female, unlikely to find another mate.

Black Swans are sociable by swan standards and will normally nest in colonies with social hierarchies, so a single pair are already a little unnaturally isolated. Down to one is a recipe for a very lonely bird.

There are however two Mute Swans on the lake, and our lonely female has been attempting these past few weeks to latch onto this pair as at least some form of company. But it is not a happy group. Mute Swans are very much more territorial with a monogamous pair viewing the ideal number of grown swans on a lake as two. So the sudden appearance of the Black Swan is most unwelcome.

On guard

They will chase her across the water until she finally hauls out onto the bank, at which they will make elaborate displays intended to show their greater size and power. As long as she stays out of the water they don’t seem to mind. But she always gets back in, and she tends to head back toward them. Today I watched them chase her across more than a quarter mile of water.


The whole sad affair is made worse through the quiet, mournful sound she then makes when they have left her alone. It’s clearly anthropomorphism on my part, but it is a call of loss and confusion.

Can anyone else hear the closing theme from TV’s The Incredible Hulk?

I don’t see a happy ending to this story. The Mutes are never likely to accept her, and she is unlikely to find a friend here. Her best option is to leave, and Black Swans do roam far and wide. But for now she shows little intention of doing so.

As an incidental point, how interesting is it that there is generic recognition? She isn’t interested in making friends with ducks or geese, just other swans. Similarly the Mutes see no issue with the other waterfowl, but another swan is one swan too many.

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7 Responses to The loneliness of the Black Swan…a story of loss and rejection

  1. Pingback: Spring marches in around Heslington Lake | Why watch wildlife?

  2. Some slightly heartening news for you perhaps – the female Black Swan is here on Campus East. She’s not the widowed female from the long resident Campus West pair though, she’s actually their progeny from 2011!

    She’s been on Campus East since she left her parents and lives with the resident pair of Mute Swans here. Normally it’s quite a friendly dynamic, only interrupted around mating time when she’s shooed away to give the Mutes some space. Seems to have been more tension this year though, as the Mute pair now on Campus West were disputing territory with the Mutes here. I think the Black Swan got caught up in it all and relocated to Campus West for a while… I imagine things will be back to normal soon however, they seem to have quite a strong bond. The Mute pair raised one cygnet to maturity last year and the four of them were living quite happily together as a family group.

    The widowed Black Swan left towards the end of 2014, after single-handedly raising that season’s two cygnets to maturity. Quite a feat really, as the male died just before she went on the nest! There was a brief stop off at Campus West for one of the juveniles at least, but all three have gone further afield and I haven’t seen them since…

    Bit of a long post – but thought you might be interested!

    • David C says:

      Thanks Bob that’s great stuff. There was quite a bit of interest in this when I posted it, do you mind if I turn this comment into a ‘guest blog’ and share? With full credit of course.

      • No problem – be my guest! I’ve got a nice photo of the four swans together last year & one of the widowed swan with her cygnets if you want to use either of those as well…

        • David C says:

          That’d be great, you can email me at dcrave77-at-gmail dot com with the pic, and if there’s any particular credit you want you can specify that too. Thanks.

  3. Pingback: Guest Blog – An update on the Black Swan | Why watch wildlife?

I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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