Mute Swan swims on calm water

Solitary Swan

There’s nothing more graceful than a swan swimming on perfectly still water.

We see swans quite often on Lake Allegan. They’re drawn to the weedy, shallow water surrounding Eagle Island, a few hundred yards from our home. Swans mate for life, and they’re social creatures. So usually, they feed in pairs—or herds or banks or bevies—of six or eight (who comes up with these collective nouns?).

So, when a solo swan floated nearby for days, I wondered if something was amiss.

The beautiful creature dabbled and dipped for food.

Mute Swan feeds in the weeds
Mute Swan Feeds at Eagle Island






It preened. It floated, head tucked under a wing, with its eyes closed. Sleeping, perhaps?

But one behavior made me look thrice. Take a gander:

At first, I thought the swan was in distress. But in between wing gyrations, diving, and water slapping, the bird closed its wings and paddled calmly as usual. My go-to reference, the wonderful Birds of North America, reassured me that I was just watching the bird take a bath.

I have no clue why this swan spent so much time alone. Did it lose its mate? Coyotes are known to prey on incubating swans. I’ve noticed many creatures are about a month behind in nesting, judging from earlier years’ date-stamped recordings. So, it’s possible that a female, who does all the incubating, was still on the nest in early June.

If I knew the solitary swan was a male, I might lean toward the predation explanation. But I can’t tell cobs from pens (boys from girls).

During its week-long residence, several herds also appeared. Did the solitary swan join those groups? Perhaps. But it always reappeared, solo, after a group departed.

Three days have passed since my last swan sighting—either solo or group. This video snippet might explain why.

That flapping sound you heard was the swan’s take-off… over the boat noise, no less!

Boats and birds often meet unexpectedly, as they round the island, unaware of who—or what—waits on the other side. These boaters took a wide berth when they saw the swans. Did you notice the one swan’s nerves of steel?

7 thoughts on “Solitary Swan”

  1. Carol, we can’t know for sure about your swan but we have a solitary mallard who swims endlessly up and down our bay. Occasionally, when other ducks come by he joins them briefly but never leaves the area with them. We know that his mate is sitting on a nest under our hostas (as she does every year). She flies out to join him usually once a day. I think her nest continues to get robbed and she keeps laying more eggs. They will probably give up soon and either find a different nesting area or wait until next season to try again. Ducks aren’t supposed to mate for life but I think they must mate for the season from what I have observed. Mute swans are not appreciated here because they chase out the native swans.

    1. Carol, I suppose it’s possible the solo swan has a mate who’s on a nest nearby–I hadn’t thought of that. A few years ago, I watched a swan on a nest over on the island (with spotting scope help!). She left every so often and took a brief swim with her mate. Then one day, they were both out swimming in what seemed like agitation, and I saw a raccoon near the nest. It had probably eaten the eggs by then. They never returned to the nest. Life can be hard for creatures, that’s for sure!

  2. I’m guessing he has a mate on a nest. They often nest in the same spot year after year. Have you checked the place on the island again this year? Once again, I enjoyed your post very much–keep it up!

    1. Thank you, Julie. I don’t see any sign of a nest, but perhaps it’s behind some brush that has grown in since the nest I saw years earlier. That said, when I watched that earlier nest, I saw the two birds together from time to time, however briefly. I haven’t seen the solo swan for several days now–mystery continues!

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