This winter, I had a chance to finally see a Tundra Swan up close. A single Tundra Swan was sheltering from the winter ice in an open water channel near Unwin Street in Toronto. It was far from alone, however. The channel was also housing hundreds of Mallards, dozens of Redheads and Canada Geese, and a few handfuls of Common Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Mergansers and Trumpeter Swans. A few Mute Swans and a male Pintail duck also inhabited the small space. When I arrived to take some photos, I got some great views of the Tundra Swan taking out its feelings on some apparently innocent Mallards.
Isn’t Man the Only Creature that Enjoys Hurting Others?
It may not be clear from the photos but these attacks were not always as funny as they seemed. The Swan was actually pretty intent and very aggressive. It appeared it would be happy if it could pull the tail off a duck or hold it underwater. Fortunately, the Mallards had a great respect for its greater size and strength and made sure to get out of the way quickly if the Swan attacked.
Why Did the Tundra Swan Attack the Mallards?
I spent a bit of time wondering why the Tundra Swan was so upset with the Mallards. I could not find any conclusion but I considered several factors:
- The amount of open water was quite small and the birds were often very crowded.
- The amount of available food was even more limited. Some people were bringing grain, particularly corn, to spread for the swans and ducks but there was no sign of any surplus. I suspect every bird there was hungry.
- It was very cold and the water was skinning with ice. That could exacerbate the hunger and tension.
- Swans in general tend to be territorial. Although this Tundra was far from a nesting site perhaps the instinct carries over year round.
- The Tundra Swan was the only one of its kind at the location. Why? Had it lost its way? Or been driven out of a Tundra flock because of its aggression? Was it unwell and it couldn’t keep up with its flock?
- Was the Tundra Swan, er, frustrated romantically and feeling aggressive as a result?
I saw several attacks so it wasn’t just a one-time wonder.
I have no idea what the motivation was but it was interesting behaviour to watch from the safety of the shore. I’m not interested in seeing as many birds as possible or as many types of birds. It’s glimpses of behaviour like this that appeal to me.
- A Chance to Compare Three White Ontario Swans Up Close
- A Mink Meets Mute Swans on an October Afternoon
- Why Do the Swans Have Huge Yellow Numbered Tags on Their Wings?
Have you seen Swans acting aggressively towards other birds or animals? Please share your sighting with a comment.