Swans are incredibly beautiful birds, and if you see them swimming peacefully from a distance you may not realize that they have a mean streak. But what if you were to get closer, disturb their nest, or approach their babies? How would they react? Are swans territorial? How do male swans protect their territory? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll explore the answers to these questions and more!
What You'll Learn Today
Are Swans Territorial?
Male swans can be extremely territorial when they have a mate and a nest to protect. Mute swans, in particular, will often become dangerously aggressive toward anything or anyone that gets too close.
For example, one man drowned after being knocked out of his canoe and prevented from swimming to shore by a swan that was most likely defending its territory. Other people have been known to receive bruises and broken bones from territorial swans.
While it’s rare for a swan to behave this aggressively, they frequently make displays that are intended to frighten away intruders, whether those intruders are people, ducks, predators, or other swans. If you see a swan behaving aggressively, it’s best to get away as quickly as possible and leave them alone.
How Do Male Swans Protect Their Territory?
So, what sort of behavior should you look for, exactly? What actions and displays do swans exhibit when defending their territory?
- Swimming rapidly: When they perceive a threat, swans will often swim fast and directly at the intruder. This action is the swimming version of a charge and is meant to intimidate the animal or person who made the mistake of getting too close.
- Busking: Busking is the term for a swan’s threat posture, which involves the swan lifting its wings and lowering its head. This behavior often accompanies a rapid swimming motion and is meant to make the swan look dangerous and threatening.
- Hissing: Despite their name, mute swans are not mute. They can make various vocalizations, including a loud and intimidating hissing noise when they are trying to scare off an intruder.
- Wing-flapping: On land, a swan may charge at an intruder while hissing and flapping its wings. A swan’s wingspan can be nearly eight feet wide, so the wing-flapping behavior quite accurately gives the impression of large size and the swan’s ability to hurt you if you come any closer.
If a swan appears to be directing any of these actions toward you, it’s best to run the other way and put as much distance between yourself and the swan as possible. Do not stay in the area and attempt to further provoke the swan, as doing so can result in serious injury.
Remember, the swan is most likely attempting to defend its mate and young. It will not attempt to hurt you for its own amusement, but male mute swans are extremely protective of their families and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.
How Do Swans Mate?
Part of why male swans are so protective is that they develop a close bond with their mate. Swans mate for life, and together, they raise many broods of young, working together to protect their babies and their home territory.
The swan mating ritual is quite a sight to see, and it can last anywhere from several minutes up to an hour.
It begins with a mating pair coming together in the water, swimming close to each other and engaging in what looks like a preening contest. Each swan will repeatedly dip its head underwater then bring its head up and preen its own feathers, and over time the preening action will become faster and more intense.
Eventually, the male will climb onto the female’s back, and they will both spread their wings a bit for balance. He will grab onto her neck with his bill, and their tails will be underneath the water, where copulation occurs for up to ten seconds.
They will then disengage and swim around each other again, often raising their bodies straight out of the water in a sort of “celebration dance.” They will begin preening again, swimming in circles around each other, before eventually returning to the common, everyday activities of swimming and eating.
Members of a swan pair will mate repeatedly throughout the breeding season, more than is necessary to fertilize the female’s eggs. It is thought that they do this to deepen their bond with each other.
Those who have witnessed swans’ mating ritual have described it as incredibly beautiful and graceful, something like a ballet. Check out this video to see why:
What Happens When a Swan Mate Dies?
So, if swans mate for life, what does that mean when one member of a pair dies? What happens to the surviving swan?
Legends claim that the widowed swan flies straight up into the sky, loses its wings, and dies. While this is nothing more than a tall tale, it is true that the remaining member of a pair often dies shortly after its mate.
The widowed swan may stop eating and starve to death. It is almost as if the swan is consumed by grief and loses the will to live.
This doesn’t happen in every case, of course. If a female swan loses her mate, especially while she is still young, she will often find a new mate.
That said, older swans and males are less likely to pair up again after losing a mate, and those that have been widowed often die soon after their mate from grief or a broken heart.
Swans mate for life, and male swans in particular can become very aggressive when defending their mate and their young. If you witness a swan charging toward you with its wings raised and head lowered, or if you see one running toward you while hissing and flapping its wings, you’ll want to leave the area immediately or risk being injured by the territorial swan.
Have you heard about black swans? Here’s our latest article on how rare they are.