Baby swan parents could 'defy selfish gene'

The first cygnet born this morning. Credit: Abbotsbury Swannery

Hundreds of fluffy cygnets are beginning to hatch at Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset after the first baby swan was born earlier today.

The swannery is the only place in the world where visitors can walk through a colony of mute swans, see cygnets hatching and participate in mass feedings.

Swanherds noticed the first signs of hatching when a female swan, or pen, became restless and began hovering over the nest, allowing the emerging cygnet more room to peck its way out of the egg.

Another expectant mother was recently bereaved when her mate died in a territorial dispute. Swanherds put up a fence to protect her nest and were astonished when a neighbouring male, or cob, swam downstream and "adopted" her eggs as his own.

Deputy Swanherd Steve Groves said: "Even though he is not the father of these eggs, he is behaving like he is, which is very odd - I have not seen anything like this in nearly 25 years of this work.

"This behaviour seems to go against what scientists call the ‘selfish gene’, where you would expect a cob to kill young that don’t belong to him.

"Staying true to the old adage that swans mate for life, we believe she will stay paired with him, and next year he will be able to father his own cygnets with her."