“The Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) is a large waterfowl that was introduced to the lakes at Singapore Botanical Gardens many years ago. From Wikipedia, the adult swan measures between 1.1 and 1.42 metres in length, has a wing span of between 1.6 and 2 metres, and weighs between 3.7 and 9 kg. The Black Swan, together with the Mute Swan (C. olor) are favourites of visitors to the gardens as they always look so elegant and graceful swimming in the water. However, they can be quite aggressive.
“In January 2011, I was at Eco Lake watching the Lesser Whistling-ducks (Dendrocygna javanica) and Wandering Whistling-ducks (D. arcuata). Seated on the grass, I was about 5 metres away from the water, photographing some of the ducks which were on shore. At first, I did not realised that a Black Swan had appeared in the water in front of me. When I realised its presence, it was staring in my direction and had puffed itself up in a sudden display. Feathers were visibly ruffled as its neck was stretched and straightened (below left). As it stood upright, with bill pointing skywards and wings out-stretched, it looked intimidating. Without doubt, it was making itself appear bigger than normal in a display of aggression.
“Sensing its unfriendliness, I was prepared to back off, but cannot resist taking some pictures. As the swan moved out of the water, it continued its stare (above right). Fortunately, it did not charge towards me. It turned away slightly from my direction as it waddled forward. It was only then that I noticed that another Black Swan was behind me. The first swan was directing its aggression at the second swan. Soon, the waddling turned into a run as the first swan chased after the second (below). The second swan reacted by retreating further inland. The first swan pursued until it was satisfied that the second was outside its territory.
“After the chase ended, the first swan began retracing its steps to the water. As it waddled past me, it stood still for a moment to scrutinise me. Or could it be curious of the camera and the clicking sound that was heard? Or was it sizing me up and giving me some form of subtle warning? The swan probably decided that the camera and I were not a threat as it moved on to re-enter the water. There was a reason for its aggression. The answer was found in the water. There were four cygnets (juvenile swans) swimming behind yet another Black Swan (below). The first swan must be protecting its brood and family.
“It is interesting to note that the swans did not exhibit any aggression towards the smaller ducks, which shared the lake with them. The ducks, some on the shore and some in the water, were minding their own business. They were not bothered by the swan’s aggression as it was not directed at them.”
Kwong Wai Chong
15th March 2011