Swans are beautiful, graceful creatures, but they also have a dark side. You’ve probably heard the rumors that swans can cause serious injuries if you provoke them to attack. But what kind of injuries are we talking about? Can swans break your arm? What other injuries can they cause? How aggressive are they, really? Keep reading; in this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.
What You'll Learn Today
Are Swans Aggressive?
Swans are known for their aggressive tendencies. They are often feared as vicious animals that will attack not only other swans, but also any humans or pets that cross their paths.
The truth is, this reputation may be blown a little out of proportion. Generally speaking, swans leave people and other animals alone–unless they perceive a threat.
Male swans in particular are highly protective. They will defend their mate, their young, and their nest–to the death if need be.
So when it comes to dealing with a perceived threat, swans can become quite aggressive. Even then, however, swans often issue a warning before attacking an intruder outright.
A swan’s warning message is called busking. It consists of hissing, spreading the wings wide, and flapping them in an effort to tell the intruder to back off.
If the threat recedes, the swan will calm down. If not, they will tuck their head low and rush forward, pummeling the intruder with their wings and sometimes biting the intruder.
Again, this behavior is usually displayed by a male, known as a cob, that perceives a threat to his mate or young. Check out the video below to see an example of a protective male swan:
Can Swans Break Your Arm?
Swans are large, relatively heavy birds which weigh up to 28 pounds and have a wingspan of nearly 8 feet. When you combine this size with their territorial aggressive tendencies, it’s no wonder they are rumored to break bones.
In fact, though, swans cannot break your arm. The idea that a swan could break human bones is nothing more than an old wives’ tale.
Despite being heavier than many flying birds, swans are still very light compared to humans. Their bones are hollow and their bodies are designed for flight; they simply do not have the strength to break the denser, heavier bones of a human.
Can a Swan Injure You in Other Ways?
Despite being lightweight, swans are no pushovers. They may not be able to break your bones, but you don’t want to mess with them, especially during breeding season–they can hurt you in other ways.
Their wings, though designed for flight, also have some adaptation for fighting. They are armored with spikes and bone spurs that can be used as weapons during a confrontation.
They have no teeth, but their bills are powerful and can leave painful marks if they bite you.
Any run-in with a protective swan is probably going to leave you with bruises and welts. In rare cases, a swan attack may even draw a bit of blood.
Additionally, you can become further injured in your attempts to escape the attacking swan. You could fall and scrape yourself up, possibly even breaking bones from the force of the fall.
Additional threats are possible if you are attacked in the water. In 2012, for example, a kayaker died while trying to swim to shore after a pair of attacking swans capsized his kayak.
So yes–even though swans aren’t capable of breaking bones, they can definitely inflict other types of harm on you.
What Should You Do if a Swan Attacks?
The best thing you can do to avoid crossing a protective swan is to give them plenty of space, especially in the spring and summer when they are nesting and raising young.
But what if you accidentally get too close? What if you find yourself the target of an angry swan when you didn’t even realize there was a nest or a protective parent in the area?
If a swan begins hissing and flapping its wings at you, don’t panic, and don’t turn and run. This will indicate to the swan that you do present a threat, and it will continue to chase you.
Instead, raise your hands and try to make yourself look large and intimidating. Back away slowly, keeping your eyes on the swan so you can see any potential attack before it comes.
Most likely, the swan will settle down as you slowly and carefully remove yourself from its territory.
Do Swans Fight to the Death?
A swan would not be able to kill a human by sheer strength; but what if it were to pick on someone its own size? Could a swan kill another swan?
Male swans often fight over territory, resources, or to protect mates and young. These fights are often extremely violent, with both swans slapping each other with their wings, swinging their necks, tangling their feet, and biting each other.
Sometimes, one of the involved males will back down, surrendering the victory to the stronger cob. However, in many cases, the two swans will fight until one of them dies.
These fights to the death don’t happen all the time, but they are common enough that such behavior is considered normal for swans.
Swans can behave quite aggressively, sometimes killing each other in epic battles to the death. However, they cannot inflict the same amount of damage on a human; they are too lightweight to break human bones, though they may cause an abundance of bruises and welts if you get too close to their mates or babies.