Skip to main content

Hand Feeding Swans

To me, all life is precious; even garden pests, until they start munching too much veg. I find nothing is more wondrous than nature itself.

Swan feeding on the River Ant, Norfolk Broads, England.

Swan feeding on the River Ant, Norfolk Broads, England.


RSPB Advice on Feeding Birds

There is a growing misguided belief across the web that feeding bread to birds is bad but the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), a leading authority in birds health and welfare, advocates bread and other household scraps as an acceptable food source, provided it's part of a balanced diet and they are not feed exclusively on kitchen scraps. The RSPB provide sound advice on their website for feeding bird's kitchen scraps and for more information on this topic their web link is provided here.

Bite the Hand That Feeds You!

Swans on the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads, and in other parts of England, do get fed a lot of bread from tourist during the summer months, but they also have to defend for themselves, testimony to the large healthy flocks of swans that frequent these waterways and lakes that the bread from the public is just a part of their balanced diet and not harmful to these beautiful swans.

It is in this context that I take you to Bowness Pier on Lake Windermere in the Lake District to hand feed the swans where, as can be seen in the video, they have a tendency to 'bite the hand that feeds them' which can add a bit of excitement to the experience, in the video the swans frenzied feed are joined with an array of ducks, pigeons, blackbirds and seagulls.

I also take you to feeding swans on the River Ant and the Lake District, England, and to Essex to meet Mistral, who came under the caring wing of the Harwich Environment Action Team there, under the guidance of the RSPB, who looked after their local flock of swans; Mistral's story is summarised in this article with a link to her full story.

Location of Lake Windermere in the Lake District, England

Hand Feeding the Swans on Lake Windermere

Whoopers and Mute Swans on the Lakes

This is the video I made at Bowness-on-Windermere while on holiday in the Lake District, and in this video you can see how friendly the hand fed swans were.

Lake Windermere

The Largest Natural Lake in England

The Lake District in Cumbria, North East England formed at the end of the last ice age 13,000 years ago as the retreating glaciers gouged great depressions in the mountains which then filled with water. Lake Windermere, 10.5 miles long, one mile wide and 220 feet deep is not only the largest Lake in the Lake District but I also the largest natural lake in England.

Today Lake Windermere, surrounded by forested hills on all sides, is a tourist attraction bustling with wildlife, fish and birds alike, and hosts leisure activities such as yachting, boating and canoeing; all of which can be seen it its full splendour when visiting the area.

When last on holiday in the Lake District we rented an upper floor holiday flat for the week overlooking Lake Windermere giving us the most spender view in all its glory. Although during the week we spread our wings and travelled the length and breadth of the Lake District, we also spent a couple of days around Lake Windermere, including a spell at Bowness-on-Windermere were we met a hoard of hungry swans and from where we took a day cruise on the Lake.

In fact we enjoyed the holiday so much that rather than returning home straight away once the week was up we hired a tent on a campsite at Great Langdale, near Ambleside (on the other side of Lake Windermere) and in the evening treated ourselves to a meal at Stickle Barn Tavern where I had the pleasure of being able to film other wildlife birds at close quarters as they shared in the feast with guests at the Tavern.

Day Cruise from Bowness-on-Windermere

Our Day Trip on the Queen of the Lake

This is a short video of our trip on the Queen of the Lake all day cruise on Lake Windermere. As the video shows it’s a popular lake with plenty of activity on it; and surrounded by wooded hills on all sides makes a wonderful and peaceful day out.


Bowness Pier

Located on the eastern side of Lake Windermere is the town of Bowness-on-Windermere. Bowness-on-Windermere, the main tourist resort on the lake, is one of the most popular tourist centres in the Lake District.

Bowness, which has been a settlement since the Vikings, and the older part of the twin towns of Windermere and Bowness, grew to prominence with the introduction of the railways in the Lake District. From Bowness Pier motor and rowing boats are available for hire, and an option of a choice of several lake cruises; one of which is an all day cruise stopping at Lakeside for lunch, Lakeside being at the top end of the lake and on the far side. From Bowness Ferry Nab there’s also a regular car ferry service to the Ferry House Far Sawrey on the other side of the lake; the trip across taking about 10 minutes.

It was from Bowness that we took the day cruise, which was a very enjoyable and peaceful day out, mooring at Lakeside for lunch. During our brief stop off and while enjoying our packed lunch and coffee on the far side at Lakeside I took the opportunity to film the steam train making short trips from the station at LakeSide. On another occasion, after exploring the other side of Lake Windermere by car we had the pleasurable experience of using the local car ferry service from Ferry House Far sawrey to Ferry Nab as a quick route back to Bowness-on-Windermere, and back to our holiday flat after a long day of exploring the Lake District.

Feeding British Wildlife Birds at Stickle Barn Tavern

Great Langdale, Ambleside in the Lake District, England

To extend our holiday at the end of the week we rented a tent at Great Langdale, and in the evening enjoyed a gorgeous meal outside at Stickle Barn Tavern where local friendly wildlife birds joined the patrons of the Tavern for a bite to eat; giving me another filming opportunity to video the local wildlife in the Lake District. Our stop over at the nearby camp site was an experience in itself in that the camp site is located in a hollow high up in the mountains thousands of feet above sea level, so there were times when the clouds descended around you or hovered just above you and the treetops; which certainly does create a very atmospheric and eerily silence, muffling sound, and a very memorable experience it was.

Scroll to Continue

Feeding Locations of Swans in the Norfolk Broads, England

Oulton Broad and River Ant, Norfolk Broads

Our Encounter with Swans and Ducks While on Holiday

I’ve always enjoyed holidaying in the Norfolk Broads, on our last visit we rented ‘Red Mill’ a holiday home converted from derelict Victorian windmill on the banks of the River Yare. During our weeks stay at Red Mill we toured the Broads, spending a day at Oulton Broad and later in the week hired a boat for the day to tour the River Ant; on both occasion we met loads of swans and ducks, and other birds, which as the videos below show gave me ample opportunity to film and photograph them.

Swan on River Ant

Swan on River Ant

Hungry Swarm of Swans on Oulton Broad

Where There's Tourists and Water There Are Sure To Be Swans

While we were on holiday in the Norfolk Broads we spent a day at Oulton Broad, not a great deal to do other there other than a bit of window shopping in the town, a leisurely walk through the park and a pleasant meal by the waterside; and while there to admire and feed the hordes of swans at the busy end by the main road with all the moored motor cruisers or wandering to the far end of the Broad to admire and photograph all the wildlife birds and the odd duck; excepting for when a dog decided to have a quick swim.

After a busy week exploring the Norfolk Broads it made for a pleasant and leisurely afternoon enjoying life on Oulton Broad.

Feeding Ducks and Swans on the River Ant

Our Motor Cruiser Hire for the Day on the Norfolk Broads

One of our day trips on the Broads, while on a week’s holiday In the Norfolk Broads, was the hire of a boat for the day and spending most of that time exploring the River Ant, including a stop off at Toads Hall on the river bank.

As this video clip shows, during a stop on the River Ant to moor up and have a bite to eat we were joined by a family of swans and their young eager to join us for lunch.

Location of Swans in Dovercourt, Essex, England

Whooper and Mute Swans

It's All in the Beak

Amongst the swans feeding in the Lake District are Whooper and Mute swans. The Whooper swans can be identified by their yellow beak and Mutes by the orange beak, see photo above of Mistral and her family in Essex. Uniquely, Mistral (a Whooper swan) had two mates, a Whooper and a Mute swan. Their full story can be read in a separate article I wrote about her love triangle on HubPages.

I can't remember seeing any adult Bewicks while feeding the swans in the Lake District or on the Norfolk Broads, but in comparison they are similar to the Whooper swan (yellow beak) but have proportionally more 'black' and less 'yellow' on their bill, they are also smaller than both Mute and Whooper swans and have a faster wing beat.

Whooper and Mute swans

Whooper and Mute swans

Mistral the Essex Swan

Swans in Harwich and Dovercourt in Essex

This is a short video I made in memory of Mistral, an introduction to her life story. Mistral was a very special swan who with her family resided in Dovercourt, Essex for many years and during her life touched and warmed the hearts of the local residents of Harwich and Dovercourt.

The True Story of Mistral The Swan

The Mistral story of a swan's life as it unfolds, her loves lost and love triangles.

Read on for the full story.

Swans at Corby, England

Swans at Corby, England

The Keeper of the Queen’s Swans

It’s often misquoted that the Queen owns all swans in the UK. It’s only the Mute swans that are technically owned by the ‘Crown’, for ceremonial proposes based on medieval laws dating back to the 12th century. Although since the 1400s the Queen’s ownership has been shared with the Worshipful Company of Dyers, by Crown appointment.

The Keeper of the Queen’s swans is a role that dates back to the 13th century, and although all unmarked, ‘Mute’ swans (Mute being a particular species of swan, native to Britain) that are in open waters in the UK can be claimed by the Queen, she only exercises her property rights on the River Thames. The Queen’s Swan Maker main role is the annual event of ‘Swan Upping’ on the river Thames, London, England.

The purpose of swan upping is to capture all the Mute swans on the River Thames so they can be ‘ringed’ (and then released) as a census to monitor the health, wellbeing and population levels of the swan population on the Thames; as a general indicator of the swan population for the whole of the UK.

Swan Upping

Swans were eaten by royalty in the 12 century, but they haven’t been since. As a native wild bird, they have full statutory protection under the ‘Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981’, and as such it is illegal to intentionally injure, take or kill a wild swan, damage or destroy their nests, or be in possession of eggs from a wild mute swan.

The penalty for injuring or killing a swan in the UK is a fine of £5,000 ($6,300) or six months imprisonment.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Arthur Russ

Do you agree with feeding wildlife - Birds and other Animals

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 13, 2017:

Thanks for your feedback Nancy and Malu, which is appreciated.

Malu Couttolenc on February 10, 2013:

Yes I do, we just have to be careful, if there is a sign telling us not to, then I wont but I love when birds gather around :)

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on February 10, 2013:

Oh Yes, we love to feed the birds. I really enjoyed your wonderful photography of the Swans and also enjoyed the videos. Hand Feeding Swans on the Lakes and Rivers in England sure sounds like fun. I have never been to England but felt like I was there while reading this page.

Related Articles