Thursday, April 24, 2008

S&M Swans

In addition to birding Prospect Park lately I've also made a couple of trips to Jamaica Bay. Being near this and the other Gateway parks that run along the coast of Brooklyn and Queens is one of the great advantages of birding around NYC. The refuge is near JFK airport, and if you've seen the marshlands as you come in or fly out from there, part of that is Jamaica Bay. Some expected birds have arrived there, including Glossy Ibis, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, and Forsters Terns. But the most interesting moment I had was watching the more familiar Mute Swans, an introduced species that is not always beloved by birders because of their aggression. Apparently, they save their worst aggression for each other. I was scoping the East Pond when I heard a commotion on the lake and looked up to see a pair of swans trying to kill each other. Or at least that's what it looked like. This series of photos gives a sense of the violence of the interaction...
I was pretty sure one of these birds was going to wind up injured or dead. The fight went on for at least five minutes. Finally, one swan got around the other and appeared to mount it:

The breeding (if that was what it was...I am only assuming here) was more akin to a prison rape than anything else, and what I'm deducing was the female looked miserable and nearly drowned. As I'm sure Leda could tell you, getting ravished by a swan isn't all it's cracked up to be. Finally, the (presumed) female pulled away and escaped, probably to recover and renounce males for good.
I've since looked up some videos online where the copulation was not nearly this aggressive, so again this may have been a dominance display rather than a mating pair. If anyone has any more information on this behavior, please email me.

1 comment:

Kburton said...

I recently had a paper on the Mute Swans at the 125th meeting of American Ornithologists Union meeting in Portland,Oregon. I have researched and written a great deal on this species, a bird found in 70 countries (U.N.Eco.Program) and recently discovered to be native in seven European countries, where they were found in 13,000 year old bogs. Prior, they were assumed to have been brought back to Britain by the Crusaders from Greece. This changed their standing in the BOU.
They are circum boreal birds,and like the other swan species that arrive on the American continent from Russia/Siberia: Whoopers,
Bewickii and Whistling, (the last two coupled as Tundra swan, now)
They have been shot on sight for years by federal agents in the far northwest, to prevent nesting and populations.
I would like to send you my short paper, which will show the Mute swans have a very long history here, backed up by people of importance in the field.
By the way, normally, the swans are not quite as wild as your pictures, but I would guess there were more males than females, because the state agencies have been killing off female swans across the country and aim towards a zero population, so whats a male swan to do, but show off his power to the other males and possibly leave behind a young of his species, just what they are supposed to do. Here in Connecticut, we have a real swan hater in a decision making position who told USF&W we could "kill off 85% of the mute swans in one year, it doesn't have to go out ten years. The remaining swans can be made flightless and neutered, a single generation extinction... if you want to see the papers, please, send an email to me at