Swans have been wintering in Shpaniv rural council area for 10 years already. The birds arrive to the mouth of the Ustia River in the late fall and fly away in the spring, as the weather becomes warmer. Despite occasional 30-degree cold spells, no bird has died there over the decade.
As much as 40 swans are now plying the river between villages Shpaniv and Maly Oleksyn in Rivne raion. There were 32 of them last year, and fewer still in the year before, so the avian population is increasing. Villagers expect to see at least 50 of their darlings to come next year. Locals are already treating the swans as good neighbors.
Shpaniv village mayor Halyna Yukish proudly told us how villagers were rescuing the birds: “People are constantly feeding the swans. Many bring their children there to look at the birds and take some bread or grain on the trip. We are seeking funds for the purchase of wheat and corn to feed the birds every year. We obtained money from the environmental fund in years past, while this year, we asked for help the local branch of the State Emergency Service. The rescuers recently brought a bag of corn and left it at the local school. After classes, its pupils take a few kilograms of grain each and go to the river to feed the birds. The swans have become accustomed to humans and are no more afraid to approach them. Our villagers are caring about the birds, constantly making sure that the birds would not get stuck in ice.”
“Swans are easily surviving cold conditions,” head of Rivne regional branch of the Ukrainian Society for the Protection of Birds Vasyl Ilchuk told us. “They have rather warm feathers. When people see a swan sitting on ice, they are often mistaken to think that it has got stuck in it. Ukraine hosts both migratory and wintering swan populations. What they really need is a clear water area. Having long necks, they can easily search for food underwater. When forced, they fly 100 to 200 kilometers to water bodies that do not freeze even amid coldest spells. For instance, many swan pairs fly to Khmelnytsky Nuclear Power Plant reservoir.”
The Ustia River never completely freezes in Shpaniv rural council area because of the rapid current. However, villagers suspect that waste coming into the river from the upstream city of Rivne is another factor behind its clear water. The birds seem to like this place, while villagers, in their turn, are happy with these feathered neighbors. However, Ilchuk advises not to feed the birds bread, which can cause gastric issues in swans. White bread is a tolerable feed, but it is best to feed them corn and wheat. By the way, the normal daily food intake for a single swan is 200 grams of corn. It is better to pour grain on ice, not into water.