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The life of a single father swan on the Esplanade

The male swan carried his cygnets Friday in the Charles River.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The two swans on the Esplanade were likely going to spend their lives together. Then things suddenly changed.

About a week after their babies started hatching, on May 31, the mother swan died. Since then, the father swan has been taking care of their young.

As a single father, he has been getting a lot of attention.

On Friday morning, the cygnets stayed close to their father as they all made their way down the Storrow lagoon.

Wendy Laurich, who lives nearby, said she sees the swans when she goes out for walks. She has followed their journey over the past few weeks and said she didn’t sleep the night she heard of the mother swan’s death.


“They’ve become a fascination since they appeared,” she said.

As she watched them Friday morning, she noted, “he’s a good dad.”

Mute swans mate for life and they’re very protective of their families, according to Greg Mertz, a veterinarian at the New England Wildlife Center, which runs two wildlife hospitals in Weymouth and Barnstable.

“They go through a grieving period if they lose a mate,” said Mertz.

A swan who loses a mate may “get kind of depressed and lonely, and pull themselves away,” he said. “We see this in a lot of animals.”

In the case of this father swan, “I think he may be so busy taking care of his babies that he may not be going through a mourning period yet,” said Mertz.

The father swan will likely continue to care for the cygnets throughout the summer, swimming with them and leading them to grassy areas where they can eat, he said.

“He’ll be raising them all the way down to September or so,” said Mertz. “His job is going to be one of protection.”

The cygnets will eventually turn a gray-brown color and will be full-sized and white by next year, Mertz said. Come next spring, the father swan will probably find a new mate.


Mertz said the biggest threats to young swans are snapping turtles, traffic — and people. They’re also susceptible to lead poisoning.

After the female swan died, a necropsy was performed. Although no cause of death was determined, there were no signs of foul play, choking, or poisoning, so she may have died from natural causes, according to Michael Nichols, the executive director of the Esplanade Association.

Since the swans built their nest in late March and early April, Nichols said, the association has received hundreds of comments on social media and e-mails from people concerned for their well-being.

“It’s been a wonderful phenomenon to have the swans. These ones in particular have really touched people,” said Nichols. “The public really has taken an interest in the story.”

Nichols said the father swan has been dubbed Atticus, after Atticus Finch, the widowed father in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“As long as the public continues to give them space, I think it’s likely they’ll continue to live a happy life on the Esplanade,” Nichols said.

The Charles River Esplanade was calm Friday morning as the father swan guided his cygnets across the water. They lingered near their nest by the Dartmouth Street bridge, gliding slowly along the green water. Passersby stopped to observe and snap photos.

The cygnets never left their father’s side — sometimes trailing behind him in a line, other times swimming alongside or just ahead of him.


Turtles were around the edge of the nest, where two eggs could be seen in the center.

One man, who declined to provide his name, said he bikes along the Esplanade a few times a week and would stop to observe the swans when he spotted them.

He believes the swan family became so popular because it provided an antidote to all the negativity surrounding the pandemic that people have been enduring over the past year.

“It’s a ray of hope,” he said.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. Charlie McKenna can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @charliemckenna9.