Winter flocks are part of the Mute Swan's way of life. Young birds leave their parents' territories from October onwards. They fly along the rivers and canals. They are not welcome on other swans' territories and chased out as soon as they land. So the young birds move on until they find a flock. They will stay in flocks for several years until they mater and go off to look for a territory of their own on which to next. Most Dublin swans are about five years old at this stage.
Cities and towns attract flocks in the winter. City waters tend to be warmer and more sheltered than rural ones. People are fond of swans so there is plenty of bread and this is important in winter when natural food is scarce.
A flock first formed in Dublin at Ringsend in 1949. In 1985 part of this flock moved across the Liffey to the Tolka at East Wall Road. In 1986 the while flock went to Tolka and on 30th October 1986 disaster struck. A particular bad spillage of diesel from a hospital upstream covered all 52 swans in oil. A massive rescue operation was mounted. Thanks to the DSPCA, the Irish Wildbird Conservancy and the Parks Department of Dublin County Council, 32 of the birds survived. Happily, the swans moved to Inchicore the following year, a much safer place for them than Tolka or Ringsend.
As part of the study of Dublin swans, nearly all the birds at Inchicore are ringed. The birds are given two rings. The first is a large white plastic ring with a code on it. The code can be read through binoculars so the bird can be identified without having to catch it again. The second ring is metal and carries a number followed by the words "Inform British Museum, London". This ring will tell us that a swan has died provided the finder contact the Museum. If enough plastic ring sightings are made, a swan's life history becomes known.
As a result of the rings, we know a great deal about the Inchicore swans. Some were bachelors, spinsters, widows and one or two married couples who had left their territory.
Swans are vegetarians. When the days get short in the autumn plant growth ceases. The huge flocks soon eat up all the remaining plants. Swan from Inchicore move out to Broadmeadow near Swords, when the food becomes scares again it will be time for the swans to return to the hospitality of Inchicore.
Copyright: The Grand Canal, Inchicore and Kilmainham. Editors Micheal Conaghan, Oliver Gleeson, Alison Maddocl. The Office of Public Works.