Cygnets in Unexpected Places

Throughout our entire trip to Alaska, I had wanted to get good photos of Trumpeter Swan cygnets. We saw some from a distance on our Nabesna Road adventure, and I took better photos of Tundra Swan cygnets on a canoeing adventure. But I really wanted closer-up photos (I know better than to approach wildlife with young).

In the early 1900s, swan populations dwindled due to hunting, and many people believed that the species had become extinct. The population has made a comeback through conservation efforts and reintroducing the swans to areas where they formerly nested.

cygnetsTrumpeter Swans spend weeks building their giant nest in preparation for their young. Human activity near the nesting area can cause the swans to abandon the nest and interrupt the breeding cycle.

You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I spotted a Trumpeter Swan pair with cygnets whilst walking around the Alaska Zoo.

A female swan pushed up against the fence, trying to reach something on the other side. Behind her, four fluffy cygnets and her mate fed in the tiny pond. I squatted down and started snapping photos of the beautiful birds. My dream-come-true moment happened at the zoo, of all places.

The female had a black patch on her wing—a place where fragile bones seemed capped with something. Her mate and the cygnets seemed fine. I watched and photographed them for a while, wishing that the zoo had more information posted about the pair.

Obviously, the swan made up part of the ‘rescue’ population. It seemed unusual that she would have a mate and cygnets, though. As we left the zoo, my mind whirled with questions about the swans.

Swan Questions

Each time I thought of the graceful female, tethered to a terrestrial life because of her wing injury, tears sprang to my eyes. Swans mate for life. When had she met her mate? Before of after her injury? Had his attraction earthbound him to the injured female? Their relationship shone brighter because of their devotion to each other.

Because his mate could not migrate, he would not migrate either. Which made me wonder about the cygnets and their fate.


The cygnets, pink-footed new with downy gray feathers, stuck close to their parents. In the wild, cygnets stay with their parents for at least a year. They select their lifetime mate when they reach two years of age. They don’t start breeding for an additional two to five years.

What would happen to the cygnets when it came their time to fledge? Who would teach them how to fly and where would they go? My heart squeezed. We had experienced our own swan-cygnet crisis a year earlier with our daughter, Sarah.

I spent six months struggling with brokenness—mine, hers, Pedro’s and Laura’s (our eldest daughter). This trip to Alaska had patched over fragile broken places in relationships much like the swan’s wing had been patched.

But, oh, the thought of what happened to the cygnets haunted me all the way home.

Answers to Some of My Questions

When I sat down to write this, I looked over the Alaska Zoo website and discovered a short notice from 2012 in their news section. The swans had their first cygnets in June, four years ago. When the three surviving cygnets fledged in August, the zoo sent them to Oregon to the Trumpeter Swan Society. The society released the cygnets onto a lake in a wildlife preserve where they joined the offspring of other injured swans.

The swans’ story still has the power to make me weep. Children are a gift from God—one we should treasure. We never know how fleeting our time with our kids might last. Despite my feelings of inadequacy as a parent and the mistakes that I’ve made, I know I have never parented alone.

No matter how #broken we feel, God will equip us to steward the gifts he gives us. Click To Tweet

Beauty Tip #30: No matter how broken we feel, God will equip us to steward the gifts he gives us.

Q4U: Have you ever felt like a broken-winged swan?

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  1. What a wonderful, touching story.

    Sadly, I’ve never felt like a broken ANYTHING, and that’s a pity, because you’ve got to be broken to heal. My wife says I’m eerily close to Schwarzenegger’s ‘Terminator’ character, only seeing this in real life is not funny at all.
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…Your Dying Spouse 226 – The Land Of Look-BehindMy Profile

  2. Unlike our buddy Andrew, I have felt broken so many times I quit counting. And, especially at parenting. Beautiful post, Anita – but they have all been perfect. Now, I’m waiting for a big, full-color coffee table book of your Alaskan Adventure. I’d pay a good price for it too!
    Susan Shipe recently posted…Day 31: Jesus, Master ChefMy Profile

  3. Beautiful story Anita! I love this, “Beauty Tip #30: No matter how broken we feel, God will equip us to steward the gifts he gives us.”
    Even in our brokenness, we have gifts to share.
    God used the injured swan to capture your heart to move us here!

    Julie recently posted…God, Am I Done Yet?My Profile

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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