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Tips on caring for cygnets and ducklings from the RSPB

To feed or not to feed and other advice on waterfowl chicks

Since lockdown started, regulation walks around my local park took me past a pond where a mother swan was sitting, every day without fail, on her nest. In these strange, surreal times, it began to feel – me stuck at home, she on her nest – as the weeks went by that we were somehow in it together.

Last week, when the proud parents could be seen showing off their four cygnets to a gaggle of parkgoers taking pictures and talking excitedly to each other, it was clear that the entire community had invested part of their locked-down life in this new family. I’m sure this scene is being reflected across the country.

But it also made me concerned about their wellbeing, so we asked the RSPB for tips about how to look out for all types of waterfowl and their offspring.



We may all have been enjoying nature in lockdown, and now as we begin to venture outside more, we need to be careful of how we interact with the wildlife we have recently been watching from home. When it comes to feeding birds, just like us birds need a varied diet to stay healthy. Although ducks and swans can digest all types of bread, too much of it can leave them feeling full without providing all the important vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need.

Bread isn’t harmful, but only feed small amounts to birds. As a suitable alternative, use foodstuffs such as sweetcorn, porridge oats, crumbled biscuits and defrosted frozen peas, as well as bird seed.


With fewer people around during lockdown, we have all seen images and videos of animals reclaiming outdoor areas once popular with humans. As we head back out, we should be alert to disturbing birds, such as swans, as they raise their young. The RSPB suggests sticking to footpaths and giving nature the space to breathe.

Keep dogs on leads to prevent them from causing harm to wildlife, or being harmed themselves. No one wants to end up on the wrong side of a swan, especially when they are protecting their young!

Short, sharp alarm calls, birds with full beaks or approaching you usually means you are too close to their chicks. If this happens, back up the way you came to avoid disturbing or harming their young, which can often be well hidden.

Female mute swans lay up to seven eggs between late April and early May. Look out for their nests – a huge mound of material, typically dried grasses and assorted vegetation, sticks and rushes, constructed at the water’s edge.


Swans are very attentive parents, so if you find a young lone cygnet there might be a problem. While you should thoroughly check the cygnet is in fact orphaned, young cygnets are vulnerable, so action should be taken. Put it safely into a cardboard box with a clean cloth and contact a reputable swan agency, which will provide advice on how to care for it until they can collect it. Don’t attempt to hand-rear the cygnet yourself.



With fishing now being reintroduced as the lockdown is eased, anglers should be encouraged not to discard used tackle but to take it home and cut it up or burn it, as entanglement in fishing tackle can be a major threat for birds. In addition, the use of lead shot as an accessory is illegal and should be reported if seen being used.


If you see anyone acting inappropriately, or witness any wildlife crimes, the RSPB is asking you to report it to your local wildlife crime officer using the police 101 number.

Images courtesy of the RSPB