[A brief news report from England: back to India next time.]
I was wandering round Kensington Gardens in central London last weekend, and found a group of six swans. Two were adults, and four were last year’s young, still in their ugly duckling plumage. Two of them had the most peculiar wing feathers, stuck out at an angle and reduced to toothpicks :
They seemed otherwise fine, behaving normally, feeding alongside the others. I didn’t know if it was a strange moult, or a problem, so on the advice of my birding friend Jane I emailed The Swan Lifeline, https://www.swanlifeline.org.uk, who confirmed it was a disease known as Angel Wing.
Jasmine and her colleagues sprang into action. By 11am the next day they had got permission from the Queen (via her representative, the park warden!) driven up to London, and met me at the water’s edge . They sprinkled food on the water, and as the foolish birds came over, they grabbed them with one swift expert scoop .
To my surprise the adult parents did not come to the defense of their young, just watched with interest.
Next step: tying the feet together with a piece of soft cloth.
then swaddling them in a custom-made red straitjacket.
And finally into a bright yellow carrier. Interestingly, by this point they are quite calm, just looking around with interest. And the rest of their uncaring family are polishing off the left-over food in the background.
Off they go to be looked after and eventually released somewhere safe from predators, probably a private lake with an island that foxes can’t get to.
There is a short video here: listen to the noise and fuss that the more aggressive male makes:
The cause of Angel’s Wing is not clear. One theory is that it is dietary, caused by too many carbohydrates, especially white bread. In Hyde Park these swans are fed by well-intended passers-by, often with not just bread but biscuits or cake too. But it may have a genetic component, since only two of the four cygnets were affected. Read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel_wing
Whatever the cause, there is no cure, and the wings will never grow proper flight feathers like these:
So these poor swans will never fly, which is why they must be protected from predators. They will be otherwise fine, and are even capable of breeding.