Can You Make Friends With A Swan

Can you make Swans like you? I think to call them your friend is to put a human emotion onto another animal, but yes, I genuinely believe you can make Swans like you, and perhaps more incredibly remember you.

I try to keep abreast of the things which bring people to our blog, so I can write a bit more of what people want to see (I see you when you’re typing, I see you when you search). Bottom line of it I want to keep this lovely level of readership! One of the most surprising searches that brings a crazy number of people to our blog ‘Can you make Swans like you’.

So now I’m going to be equally crazy and tell you that yes you can make Swans like you and I’ll spend the next few hundred words telling you how and why I believe this to be true.

It comes down to two simple principles, food and respect. The wildlife is one of my favourite attributes of boat life, at times it is the only attribute which stops me from wailing a don’t want to do it anymore. We have been lucky enough in the last two years to see everything from Herons (James thought they were called Moorhens much to my amusement, I have since pointed out actual Moorhens, much to his disappointment), Barn Owls, Ducklings, Otters, Water Vole, Badgers, Hares, Carp the size of Sharks and of course my ultimate, the Swans. We have been and are so lucky to have all of this on our actual doorstep, but any regular readers will appreciate my unrivalled love for Swans.

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I’m not entirely sure where this love comes from, but I would go as far as to say they are the most majestic, serene, intelligent and stubborn creatures to grace the waterways network (Except for myself). From our first days aboard, I pledged that I was going to make a connection with these Swans, and by some small miracle I think I managed to.

The first time we were approached by a solitary Swan I raced into the boat to grab the nearest soft carb (Happened to be rich tea biscuits), and I crumbled them before this beauty. It quickly became a habit, the first few weeks of boat life were spent in a marina and daily this swan would return around the same time for our snack and tea appointment (to clarify the tea was only for me and was often Gin).

So there we have the first principle, Food. Fear not I’m not going to get back into my opinions on the big bin the bread debate, if you’ve got time to kill you can delve into my thoughts on that here and here. I’ve held some pretty simple principles with the feeding of wild fowl from the off set, as we should all follow in our lives … a healthy balanced diet. I keep my vegetable peelings in a little tin box, and they get fed out to ducks/swans/fish every day, along with any stale bread and unused rice and pasta (I have an inability to correctly portion rice and pasta!), and only 2 units of alcohol a day (Joking obviously no one can function on less than three!).


So then we move onto the second principle, respect. Swans are incredible creatures and it can be difficult when you see them on the water to appreciate their size, but when you see them in the spring grazing the towpaths you understand what power houses they are. Sometimes the Swans come to the boat, sometimes they don’t there is nothing I can do to change that. When they do visit the boat they can be known to do their infamous hiss, it can be scary, but you have to try and think why. Is one of the dogs barking inside the boat, in which case they are more than likely hissing as a first defense, or are they just hissing because I’m not feeding them fast enough, in which case they can wait a little bit longer between pieces of food.

It all snowballed from that first feed and the routine that followed. Shortly after that we heard rumour that they were nesting and a little while later out on the cut I heard a tapping along the boat (It’s very common with ducks feeding off the side of the boat), but it was rather prolonged. I went to investigate and was greeted by two beautiful Swans proudly showing me their new hatchlings. They’d found us, and they continue to find us whenever we are on that stretch of the waterways ‘their patch’ if you will.


We’ve now followed this Swan family through two sets of Cygnets. What amazes me though is their apparent ability to remember you. You’ll watch them going about their days, but there are only certain boats they’ll target as potential dinner prospects, they know where they are more likely to be fed and where they are not. Perhaps along with choosing one mate for life and their joint territory they also choose their friends and foes.

I’m not entirely sure what makes them choose to trust you, but the happiness it’s brought me is unrivaled. Don’t get me wrong I am under no illusion that my presence brings them any form of happiness, I’m merely a survival tool for them, an easy meal source. But those 10 minutes they choose to spend bobbing in the water next to you, when you’ve finished feeding them, while you sip your tea (gin) and the sun sets, they’re precious moments where for a fleeting second you might think to yourself maybe they do enjoy our company. I of course then remind myself there is a reason doctors recommend a limited number of alcoholic units in a week.

James & Kirsty

A diary of live aboard life

4 thoughts on “Can You Make Friends With A Swan

  1. Beautiful post! I love swans and saw them close up for the first time when we had a holiday on the Norfolk Broads when I was a child. Subsequent boat holidays ever since and we always appreciated the joy of seeing the wildlife, loving the tapping on the side of the boat like you mention.


  2. Agreed, swans have the ability to recognise people . I have a black swan friend who I visit for many times during COVID and he recognises .Every time surprised who happy he acts to see me, swimming , moving his neck and head, make friendly noises to me as hè tries to communicate. During winter cold I need to take my woollen hat off, then he recognises me. It’s a great experience everything


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