Wed Mar 2023

Fighting Swans II*

“Why do swans fight?” I’ve been asked that question many times. From what I’ve observed, a fight is always over territory, specifically nesting territory. For the several successive generations of swans I have followed on our pond, that nesting territory has always meant the entire pond and its abutting marshy area. The swans build their nest in a shallow depression in the ground, at the boundary between the marsh and the pond. Interlopers have rarely been tolerated by any of the successive resident pairs, unless the fight has ended in a standoff.

This latest was a relatively short fight. The defending residents were unusually big, strong, and battle-tested, so the interlopers really didn’t stand a chance.

In these fights, the defending cob (the male) is the aggressor. He tries to push his challenger under water and hold him there just long enough to force his surrender. Meanwhile, the defending pen (the female) repeatedly chases her counterpart away, to keep the latter from coming to the aid of her mate.

In the photo, the defending pen has returned from just such a chase, and is about to pile in and help her cob. The defending pair’s neck feathers are up, a sign of aggression, while the fleeing challenger’s are down, a sign of submission. His slim neck indicates that he’s already willing to surrender, but he’s not going to get away without a good dunking, first.

These same residents, victorious here, became embattled in an horrific fight in March 2012, a fight they ultimately won back then as well. I photographed and reported on it in great detail, in what I feel is one of the best posts on this blog. It is a quick read, but it will give you surprising insight into the remarkable phenomenon of swan fighting.

This photograph was taken on June 1, 2013 at 8:32 am. Note the immense span of the pen’s outstretched wings, and her brilliantly backlit, translucent flight feathers. Click the image to view it full screen, and click the back arrow to return. Cursor over for its description. Enjoy!