It is like the classic Ugly Duckling fairy tale with a twist; a beautiful mute swan is rearing a goose to the amazement of staff at an attraction in Gloucestershire.
At first glance the youngster, at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, looks similar to a cygnet.
But its telltale yellow-brown down already betrays the fact it is a greylag gosling and as it grows over the coming weeks it will look an even stranger sight as its swims along next to its long-necked ‘parents’.
James Lees, Reserve Warden, said: “It can be one of two options: either the swan took over the nest of a goose and started to incubate the egg, or a greylag goose laid an egg in the swan’s nest.
“I saw it on the nest incubating eggs over the last few weeks but this was the only youngster to emerge. What is clear, is that the goose has imprinted on the swan and clearly thinks it is mum and vice versa.”
WWT Slimbridge is home to as many as 35,000 wild ducks, geese and swans at any one time, but this is the first time that staff have ever seen a swan rearing a goose, although geese have been known to very occasionally rear ducklings.
In the first few weeks goslings and cygnets rely on their parents for warmth and protection, but they are good at foraging for food and swimming from day one.
This gosling is sticking close to the swan, which in turn is chasing away any birds which come close to it. Her male swan partner is also helping to protect the gosling. Despite being a gosling it is behaving like a cygnet and even tried unsuccessfully to climb onto her back when it started to rain heavily.
Rearing of young is fairly similar between the two wetland species so experts at the Centre think the goose will be well cared for. The key difference is goslings tend to stay with parents for up to a year whereas adult swans chase off their young in the winter, so it may be forced to gain independence sooner than most young geese.
James added: “Visitors are finding it very intriguing but most are assuming it is a cygnet until we encourage them to take a closer look.
“The swan has invested so much time already in hatching the gosling that we think she will continue to care for it over the weeks to come so we are looking forward to seeing this real life fairytale unfold!”