Black Swan’s aggression

24 Mar 2011   in Intraspecific 6 Comments »
Contributed by Kwong Wai Chong

“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
Singapore
15th March 2011

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6 Responses to "Black Swan’s aggression"

  1. April says:

    Anyone know where the black swans have gone? They are not there on 15 March. Fly away?

  2. Janice says:

    I saw the pair on 17 March. One did the “running” on water action. It was awesome.

    • April says:

      Thanks for replying. I was there for over an hour and walked around the lake but no signs of them – must have gone away for a while or they were very well hidden.

  3. fuzzbear says:

    We had a black swan land on our lake. It seemed fairly tame for about a week. I noticed it had a band on it, and when I bent down to read the band it WHAPPED me in the face with its wing. My hand went up to my face and returned bloody. When I looked in the mirror I saw my lip was split wide open, you could see my bloody teeth. I went to the ER and needed 12 stitches, to repair the split lip-muscle damage and the skin over it. These birds can be very dangerous !!!

    • Patrick Appleton says:

      Ouch! It was just a lucky punch though, or unlucky in your case.
      They are a harmless bird if you are aware of those wings. They weigh very little so they can only generate that ouch in the wing strike through speed.( The law of physics – double the speed, quadruple the force) It’s like a Karate back fist, so they have to get their distancing and timing right otherwise it is just like being hit by a feather!

      I was offering a small juvenile swan some lettuce one time but he wanted bread so he gave the back of my hand a whack with that fast, hard carpal bone and I’m now still having nightmares. You are lucky you still have your teeth fuzzbear!

      But they are all bluff and give up the intimidation drill once they realise you are not running away.

  4. Patrick Appleton says:

    Black Swans don’t like other swans in their territory. I’ve been living with some in Australia and although they can live in vast communities, some are fairly anti social.
    The disappearing act is common as they take the cygnets on excursions to other areas and can be gone for some time. Those cygnets, once they are about a year old they will be chased away too to make way for new cygnets so mum and dad will move them around for a while in areas the kids can go to later.

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