Like most babies, young swans — or cygnets — depend on their mothers for their survival. Mother swans keep their little ones cozy and safe, teach them to find food and swim, and carry them on her back to stay warm until their feathers grow in.
So, when a resident swan sadly passed away in Boston, her untimely death threw the fate of her 6 ducklings into question. Indeed, without their mother to protect them, one cygnet quickly drowned. Another reportedly had to be rescued by animal control.
Fortunately for the surviving cygnets, father swans aren’t slouches, either. Though they traditionally spend time guarding their territory against feathered rivals, these baby swans were lucky to have a doting dad willing to step up and shoulder the parenting duties after his life partner passed away.
Were saddened to report that the mother swan of the adorable Esplanade swan family passed away last night in her nest. We want to thank @animalboston for safely removing her from the swan's nest while the father swan sat at the nest with their cygnets tucked under his wings. pic.twitter.com/CnuYZOKWcK
— Charles River Esplanade (@EsplanadeBoston) June 1, 2021
According to the Charles River Esplanade Association, which maintains the riverfront area where the swans lived, the papa swan stepped up to comfort his young ones after their mother unexpectedly died.
“We’re saddened to report that the mother swan of the adorable Esplanade swan family passed away last night in her nest,” the non-profit group wrote on Twitter, recalling how “the father swan sat at the nest with their cygnets tucked under his wings” while animal control took his late mate’s body away.
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Days later, a local photographer captured another heartbreaking sight. Now the grieving father swan was cruising up and down the river with his cygnets — typically something a mother would do — hitching a ride on his back.
“And when they approached, I noticed something was kind of unusual,” Matthew Raifman told WBZ-TV Boston. “All the baby cygnets were on top of the papa swan.”
Thankfully, Raifman captured this poignant scene on film and posted it on Instagram, where it quickly went viral.
“One of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming stories in a while,” Raifman captioned his post, which quickly garnered thousands of clicks, likes, and comments — becoming his most popular photo of all time.
“Last week, six baby swans were born in Boston. The mother died a few days later of unknown causes,” the photographer continued. “One of the cygnets drowned; another had to be rescued by animal control. But this papa swan, left to his own, is rising to the challenge.”
Now people all over the world are cheering for this grieving widower swan, who is stepping up to steer his family through this difficult time.
“It’s not a fairy tale story and I think that’s what is powerful about it,” Raifman told WBZ-TV.
“That challenge of kind of love and loss and triumph and overcoming these obstacles is something I think we’re all kind of connecting with around this papa swan story and rooting for,” he said.
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