A swan, who became a single dad after his longtime companion passed away suddenly, is capturing hearts across the nation.
In a series of bittersweet photos the grieving bird, named Atticus, is seen carrying four cygnets on his back. The pictures were taken just days after they lost their mom.
Matthew Raifman, a Ph.D student, snapped the powerful images along the Charles River Esplanade in Boston on June 3.
“It’s a heartwarming story, but also a tragic story,” Raifman told TODAY Parents. “I’m a father of a toddler and I can’t help but think what it would be like if I had to be a single parent and just how hard that would be.”
Raifman, 36, has heard from hundreds of people since he shared the photographs on Instagram and Facebook.
“There’s this compelling kind of Father’s Day theme there, for sure,” Raifman said. “You know this papa swan lost his spouse and is having to go through the challenge of raising his children.”
Raifman noted that swans mate for life, with few exceptions.
“What this papa is going through is pretty traumatic but he’s rising to the occasion and being resilient,” Raifman said. “And because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been faced with the same tragic situations. There is a tragedy here that is reflective of the human condition and what we’ve collectively been dealing with as a society.”
The mother swan died on May 31 from unknown causes, according to the Charles River Esplanade Twitter account.
When Boston Animal Control came to remove her from her nest, Atticus sat with the cygnets tucked lovingly under his wings.
"He allowed wildlife professionals to do what they needed to do and he shielded his babies," Michael Nichols, executive director of The Esplanade Association, told TODAY Parents. "He's very protective."