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According to the Wikipedia article on swans, swans are mostly monogamous but may sometimes separate, particularly after a "nesting failure". What "nesting failure" may mean is not entirely clear to me. Does it mean that they they have literally failed to build a physical nest? Or is it that they have failed to produce offspring? Or is it something else entirely?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Apparently it refers to the inability of nesting the eggs, because the nest was somehow destroyed, or environmental conditions were unfavourable.

I found a few examples pointing in this direction:

The Trumpeter Swan page on the Yellowstone National Park websites reports that:

Nest flooding is the primary cause of nest failure. Egg predation by coyotes, ravens, and otters does occur.

From the abstract of: Nesting Ecology of Bewick's Swans on Vaygach Island, Russia - Syroechkovsky et al., Waterbirds, 2002

Nest failure was mostly due to abandonment of nests in cold weather rather then to predation. Climatic conditions in spring are the main determinants of nesting success for swans on Vaygach Island.

From this article:

Reproductive Success of Exotic Mute Swans in Connecticut - Conover et al., The Auk, 1999 (PDF)

Egg survival was defined as the proportion of eggs in successful nests that hatched (Johnson et al. 1992). Successful nests were those from which at least one egg hatched. Egg survival is referred to by some authors as hatching rate (Willey and Halla 1972). Eggs left in the nest after incubation ceased were considered abandoned.


We determined the cause of failure for 33 nests: 46% were flooded, 27% were abandoned, 15% were disturbed by humans, 6% were lost to predators, and 6% failed after a parent died.

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Actually, nesting failure means that nesting trial fail before offspring could even leave the nest. In case of precocial species (where chicks leave nest immediately after hatching, like swans) it means that eggs was destroyed or parents abandoned nest, as @nico point out. In case of altricial birds (offspring stay in nest) nesting failure may also mean that all nestlings died before leaving nest.

for example among House wrens (Belles-Isles & Picman 1986):

About 81% of nesting failures (n = 30) were due to predation (contents disappeared before the expected fledgingdate). Females abandoned seven nests, and starvation (presumably because of desertion by parents) accounted for one nesting failure.

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