DaDane of DaWeek

Big Bully Swan

Click here to view the Big Bully Swan Slide Show!

We have a swan problem, or perhaps I should say a problem swan. His name is Mr. Big and he has spent much of the summer terrorizing our household. In desperation last month I sent a letter to one of England's royal "Swan Uppers." What is a Swan Upper? He's someone who helps with the Crown's annual census of the swan population on the River Thames. This event takes place each July. I figured there aren't many people around who know more about swans than the royal Swan Uppers. Here is a copy of the letter I sent:


I am writing from the United States and I hope you will be able to offer some advice concerning a "renegade" mute swan that we acquired last May. He is around ten years old; his mate is approximately six. We bought the pair from a person who breeds Black Australian Swans and Black Neck swans. She gave them up due to the aggressiveness of "Mr. Big" during breeding season. He not only terrorized all of the other waterfowl on her 3 acre pond, he also chased her black stallions around the pasture. The only solution was to keep the pair penned, away from the other animals.

We own a private 8 acre pond on a rural 75 acre parcel. We live here; it's our home. We felt that the pair of swans would do well here because of they would be the only ones on the pond. When we turned Mr. Big and Charlotte (Mrs. Big) loose last May, all was well. They were delighted to be here and we were delighted to have them. Neither was friendly, but there was some evidence of socialization.

Naturally Mr. Big became more aggressive as breeding season approached this spring. That was expected. We built a large floating island in the middle of the pond and placed a bale of hay on it. Charlotte immediately took up residence and built her nest. Over next two months, Mr. Big became increasingly hostile towards us, our two Great Danes, and our pair of resident Canada geese. (He ignored our mallard ducks, though.) Eventually he drove away the geese and we've never seen them again. He also went after our Danes. He would not permit the dogs to wade in the pond or drink from it. Also, he would attack us without warning no matter where we happened to be on the shoreline. On two occasions my husband I were injured because he got to us when we weren't paying close enough attention. He attacks us when we are on our dock trying to enjoy a quiet sunset. We don't go near the pond now unless we are carrying a long stick or broom for protection. The presence of brooms and sticks do not seem to deter him much, but at least they deflect his blows. He doesn't understand the concept of "alpha."

Anyway, some cygnets were hatched three weeks ago. They are doing well. We were hoping Mr. Big would calm down once the babies arrived, but no such luck. The dogs still can't drink from the pond and Mr. Big attacks us no matter how far away we might be from Charlotte and her cygnets. Our mere presence is enough to set him off. I can't imagine what would happen if we had young children. He would probably try to drown them. Yesterday I saw Mr. Big chase "rush" a wild deer from the water's edge – three times! The deer finally gave up. I feel as if we are all being held hostage by Mr. Big. He attacks without provocation. He is even making it difficult to put out the swan food. The other day he repeatedly hurled himself at my car after I had driven over to the feeding station to offload a bag of feed. Obviously we can no longer swim in our pond and enjoy it like we have done other summers.

His previous owner finds this all somewhat amusing. She says that in a couple of months he'll calm down and everything will be fine. Perhaps that's true, but we don't want to go through another breeding season with a swan that behaves so badly. She will not take him back, either, because of the problems he caused at her farm. She suggested finding him a new home somewhere else, but I don't imagine that anyone is going to want such an ill-tempered creature. My question is this: Is Mr. Big a "normal" swan? If so, then how do you British people manage populations of them in your many parks? You are known for your beautiful swans. Surely you couldn't tolerate the kind of behavior I described in a public place, could you? Do you have any advice for us? I am a real bird lover – in fact I used to raise various breeds of geese – but I fear I am beginning to hate this particular swan. That's not a good thing. I wish there was something I could do to improve the situation, but I am at a loss. Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.


Here is the response I received:

Yes, he is normal! Mutes can be very territorial, although some birds aren't as bad as others, but basically he is defending his family against all intruders, especially dogs!

Over here the only predator on swans is fox, so natural instinct is to attack and defend against any canines. People over here respect wild swans. It may be that being bred over there may have increased some traits with inbreeding exaggerating problems, but I have been attacked a few times in the past when not being as careful as I could be.

As the cygnets grow and get close to flying his aggression will probably diminish, and in fact he may even become aggressive towards the cygnets in order to protect his territory for breeding next year! Best thing to do is to leave them alone, let him settle on his own accord but try to avoid any confrontation. He may start to trust you more, but not if you have dogs with you!

Good luck.


Not much has changed around here since I wrote to the royal Swan Upper. I've contacted our zoo about adopting Mr. Big, but the zoo is in the process of getting rid of its swan population. (I wonder why?) I asked my veterinarian about having him neutered, but she just laughed at me. I suppose we could keep Mr. Big locked up in a pen, but that would not be very pleasant for any of us. I found a 19th century recipe for Swan Fricasse which sounds pretty good, but I am not really into eating my pets.

If you can offer some helpful advice, please email your suggestions to I have put together a slide show of Mr. Big, Charlotte and the three cygnets. I've named it the Bully Swan Slide Show.

Go to next SWAN installment...

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