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Thursday 18 September 2014

High hopes as swan rears gosling

Published 08/05/2014 | 16:07

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A mute swan is rearing a greylag gosling to the amazement of staff at the WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre (James Lees/WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre /PA)

A beautiful mute swan is rearing an ugly goose to the amazement of staff at a wetland centre.

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The youngster, which has hatched at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, looks similar to a cygnet at first glance.

But it is actually a greylag gosling, with yellow-brown down, and will look distinctly different from its long-necked "mother" in the coming weeks.

Staff at the Gloucestershire attraction are unsure about how the unusual relationship began.

Reserve warden James Lees said: "It can be one of two options - either the swan took over the nest of a goose and started to incubate the egg, or a greylag goose laid an egg in the swan's nest.

"I saw it on the nest incubating eggs over the last few weeks but this was the only youngster to emerge.

"What is clear, is that the goose has imprinted on the swan and clearly thinks it is mum and vice versa."

Up to 35,000 wild ducks, geese and swans live at the centre but it is the first time staff have seen a swan rearing a goose, though geese very rarely rear ducklings.

In the first few weeks of life, goslings and cygnets rely on their parents for warmth and protection.

They are able to forage for food and swim from day one.

The gosling is sticking close to the swan, which is in turn chasing away any birds that come close to it, along with her male swan partner.

It is behaving like a cygnet and even tried to climb onto the swan's back when it started to rain heavily, though it was unsuccessful.

Experts at the centre believe the goose will be well cared for, as rearing of young is fairly similar between the two wetland species.

The key difference is goslings tend to stay with their parents for up to a year, while adult swans chase off their young in winter - so it may be forced to gain independence sooner than usual.

Mr Lees added: " The swan has invested so much time already in hatching the gosling that we think she will continue to care for it over the weeks to come so we are looking forward to seeing this real life fairytale unfold."

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