Several times this winter, pairs of visiting Mute Swans graze on submerged vegetation in the Brighton millpond. If our inhospitable Mute Swan (Swan #4) sees them, they are unceremoniously dispatched (above).
Wednesday evening, a newly arrived pair were grazing near Brighton’s city hall as our resident swan approached. I stayed to watch the fireworks. Swan #4 has claimed the millpond as his own territory since his arrival last fall. Last night he wasn’t thinking about spring love like most of the ducks and geese. He was driving the unwelcome swans out of his territory.
Time after time, the visitors fled but they’d circle back to land a few hundred yards away from Swan #4. When he’d see them, he would start moving toward them to drive them away again.
Here, the millpond’s resident gains on the other swan as it flies to the north end of the pond.
The threat posture of swans is beautiful. They place their bill against their chest so their head is low and neck curved. They raise their wings to appear three times larger than they actually are. They paddle at a good clip toward Canada geese or rival swans until the other bird(s) flees in terror. I’ve never witnessed body-to-body contact where birds are severely injured but it sometimes happens.
The swan almost caught its rival in mid-air (left) but the fleeing bird increased his air speed to avoid a physical encounter.
The visiting male swan (called a “cob”) circled back (above) to rejoin his mate (below) each time Swan #4 dispatched him.
When Swan #4 saw them again, he was quick to swim toward them so they would be forced to make a hasty retreat (below).
This “dance” of rival swans probably happened several times during the day. I watched the birds for 40 minutes at sunset and it happened four times.
Swan #4 separated the pair and the male took to the sky to get away while the female (called a “pen”) remained behind. The fleeing bird landed a 1/4 mile north in the pond and began calling to its mate.
Hey, wait a minute. Mute swans don’t sound like that.
I looked more closely. Wow! These were visiting Trumpeter Swans! Mutes have dark orange bills; these were black. Mutes have a soft, rattling call while these trumpeted.
Each time, the Mute separated the pair, the male Trumpeter circled back to its mate within five minutes. It may have briefly landed in the cattail marsh on the other side of Grand River Avenue. Seeing these white birds with their 6′ wing span in the air is a wonderful experience.
The quality of these images is poor. Everything happened at twilight on a dreary, rainy evening. The photos are grainy and out of focus. I’m hoping I can capture similar actions on a brighter day. This was the first time I’ve seen Trumpeter Swans at the millpond in the 6+ years I’ve been reporting on the wildlife there, but maybe they’ll be back tomorrow and I will be, too.
That’s part of the joy of watching the nature around us. We never know what we might see.
Most of these images click through to larger versions, but two are at maximum resolution as shown in this post.