Until very recently, early summer has been so lovely we’ve been practically constantly on the go enjoying the wonders of nature. Probably the most memorable experience so far this season has been observing the bathing and grooming of a group of 13 mute swans (Cygnus olor) (kyhmyjoutsen).
That afternoon our timing was perfect. On our arrival to the seaside the swans were just gathering to a sheltered bay where a few were already swimming around and feeding stretching their necks to the bottoms of the sea. Swans mate for life and we could clearly spot the couples.
Before too long, the swans started to water themselves. It felt as if they were washing up their dirty necks before preening. One young swan in particular ran a playful show swimming and diving around like a wheel whirling on water. Judged from its brownish colouring it was most likely a cygnet from last year who simply couldn’t get enough of the joys of water.
One by one, the swans were assembling closer to the shore to start the grooming process. The flexibility of a swan’s neck is amazing. It can get to every corner of the plumage when the bird is diligently preening its large body and wings cleaning the feathers and spreading preen oil through them to keep them waterproof. The oil gland is located at the base of the tail so I guess the above two swans are stretching for a fresh dose of the waxy oil.
The swans provided a skillful balancing act. Feathers and down were blowing about when the acrobats were twisting themselves around often using also one of their legs as an aid in the preening.
We spent a good half an hour silently watching the fascinating performance. These swans summering on the waters of the Ruissalo island are used to people and didn’t mind the onlookers at all. The two barnacle geese on the shore, on the other hand, were a bit disturbed by someone walking his dog on the seaside rocks and decided it was better to fly to safety. When the dog began to bark it was too much even for the swans. They raised their necks up and started slowly gliding away busking, ie holding their wings slightly up, as if they were drying them.