Wildlife Rangers Field Report: What has happened to the Wapping swan?

Several residents have asked our Wildlife Rangers (Wapping Canal Team, North Side) what has happened to the pair of residents swans on Wapping Canal? Because they are not a pair anymore, just a single swan.

The swans have owned the canal for as long as the Wildlife Rangers can remember and are one reason there are not that many other birds on the canal – the swans don’t let anyone into their territory.

On one occasion the Wapping Wildlife Rangers and several other residents had to physically intervene as the Wapping swans attacked and tried to drown a lone swan who had landed on the canal in error. (Tip – don’t try this at home kids. Swan rescued but it was a bit of a kerfuffle.)

Wapping swan reflected in the canal.
Wapping swan reflected in the canal.

How unusual is an empty swan nest?

Our Rangers have made some enquiries of the real wildlife experts of the borough Biodiversity Team and apparently although a swan continuing to sit on an empty nest sounds a bit unusual, there are plenty of natural reasons why a nest might have failed, including predation by foxes or gulls, extreme weather (the torrential electric storm in early June and/or the extreme heat since) or fertility problems for one of the pair.

The disappearance of the other adult in the pair could also be down to death by predation or accident. Or it could have simply moved away, though that would be very unusual as swans generally pair for life.

Although some sort of illegal human intervention can’t be ruled out we think this is highly unlikely as significant numbers of Wapping residents keep an eye on the swans and someone would have seen something.

Swan cygnets on Wapping canal

Most likely explanation is the simplest one – life in the wild taking its normal course. Much as we love our swans we cannot protect them from nature itself.

We have also noticed a reduction in the number of eggs laid by the swans in the last two or three years.

Crossed fingers for the lone Wapping swan

Good news is that it is quite likely that another adult will move in and form a pair with the remaining bird, as nesting territories are likely to limit swan populations in the area and Wapping Canal is an excellent spot for breeding.

Colin the Cormorant on Wapping canal

Don’t forget to check out the Tower Hamlets Biodiversity page and go visit one of the many wildlife areas in London managed by the London Wildlife Trust.

Or you could just go out for a walk, stop and look around. You would be amazed at the variety of wildlife you can see in our borough if you only take the time to look. Who knows – you might see Kevin the Kingfisher one day.

Kevin the Kingfisher on Wapping Canal


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