Cygnet in peril

This morning on the way to market in Esslingen, Germany, I discovered a new family of swans, living in a canal that leads through the center of town. The mother and father swans were there with their 3 cygnets, looking something about like this. The ones I saw looked a bit older and larger than those in the photo. My friends had seen the eggs earlier and we think they’re about 2-3 weeks old. I watched as the cygnets practiced diving for food. This was a very tight family, which is to be expected from swans. who are extremely loyal to each other and even mate for life.

Other waterfowl live there as well, including a graceful blue heron.

The little family really struck me and I came back after dinner to see how they were doing. Unfortunately, one of the cygnets was caught in the current of a small, man-made waterfall that drains the canal back to the Neckar river (where it originates from). The slope and current there are navigable for a larger bird, but this cygnet was having real trouble getting back up to the calm, safe part of the river. As the rest of the cygnet’s family watched helplessly, it was simultaneously crying and swimming, desperately trying to rejoin them. And it kept getting so close! The pattern was the same every time: the cygnet would swim hard enough get its feet onto some rough stone at the top of the tiny falls, and the rushing current would take it back where it was.

The cries for help were heart-wrenching but no one could help — the river was fenced off and far below all of us humans observing the drama. The parent swans were a little less helpless, but they had to simultaneously prevent the other two curious siblings from getting caught in the same current. They took turns watching the two siblings and trying to help. Sometimes one would get close enough to touch the cygnet with a beak, but they did not really find a way to push or pull. Neither tried to get behind and push. Sadly, the little swan ran out of energy after 15 minutes or so of trying and crying, and was finally swept away under a bridge into the darkness and eventually to the other side in a fast moving stream. The rest of the family was exhausted from the whole thing and went back to their nesting ground to quit the day.

The cygnet probably survived the swift journey to the Neckar, which will open up to be wide and calm. Despite how afraid it is, I can imagine that the cygnet would be impressed by the immense, still beauty relative to the little urban world it had known. But, I doubt there is any realistic chance for it to survive on its own out there. It may be able to find food, but there will be predators. I only hope Walt Disney is watching from somewhere and will make something wonderful happen. However, nature is probably a little harsher than my imagination of a happy ending. In any case, good luck out there little cygnet, you can make it if you can think like Huckleberry Finn.

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