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,
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
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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