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Are Swans Aggressive? Species, Facts, & FAQ

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swan on shallow waters

Swans are aggressive against animals, humans, and other birds. Many people believe that swans can break the bones of humans and even kill pets. They even warn their kids never to get too close to swans. But how true are these old tales? Are swans strong enough to break human bones?

Male swans are violently protective of their families. If they feel threatened, they begin hissing and flapping their large wings to scare away the predators. In the worst cases, they may also strike their enemies with their powerful bills and wings. But they are not that strong to break bones.

Let’s learn more about their behavior in detail.

magnifying glass 2 divider What Swan Species Can Get Aggressive?

A swan pair shares a strong enough bond. Both partners play important roles in caring for the young cygnets and their nourishment. In fact, swans mate for life with one partner.

The protective nature of these birds turns aggressive whenever their nest is threatened. They may also show signs of violence when finding and competing for food. 

Three swan species that especially show signs of aggression are:
  • Whooper swans
  • Bewick’s swans
  • Mute swans

Swans make a loud hissing sound when protecting their territories. If the danger doesn’t go away, this behavior quickly escalates into extreme violence, where they don’t even shy from attacking the enemies with full force.

When their nests don’t have any threat, swans don’t attack anyone. However, you should never get too close to these birds or other wild animals, as they can get aggressive anytime.

a swan opening its mouth showing its lamellae
Photo Credit: Ralphs_Fotos, Pixabay

When Do Swans Get Aggressive?

Swans are usually aggressive in the breeding swan that starts from late April to June. They immediately attack any entity that tries to intrude on their nests during this time of the year. So, it’s better to avoid visiting swans at this time.

If the threat doesn’t retreat after the initial warning, they get the most aggressive to protect their mate, young, and home.

Swans also get aggressive when they don’t have enough food sources available. In such cases, they compete with other birds and animals to satisfy their and the family’s hunger.

How Do Male Swans Protect Their Nests?

Male swans primarily protect their territories, but females also accompany them. As soon as swans sense danger, they show initial signs of warning to make the intruder or predator back off. If they don’t stop, swans move on to showing more violence.

Under extreme threat, swans protect themselves and their nests by:
  • Loud hissing
  • Wing flapping
  • Stretching their neck upwards
  • Spreading wings wide, known as busking

If this territorial aggression doesn’t intimidate the predators enough, swans show a full-scale violent attack on land or in the water.

In water, they tuck their head under the wings and move swiftly toward the source of the threat. But, while doing so, they keep their feet towards the enemies.

Swans show the same busking posture on land, too. First, they open their wings and hold them wide and high while keeping their neck and head downwards. Then, they run as fast as possible toward the predator while hissing loudly and flapping their wings. They use their mighty wings to strike at the threat source in full attack mode. A swan’s wings are adapted for fights with thickened bones and spikes.

They may also bite or pull the predator with their powerful beak. But they lack teeth, so their bites are not harmful.

close up of a swan's bills
Photo Credit: holgerkehl, Pixabay

Do Swans Attack Humans?

Practically speaking, swans don’t attack humans unless they threaten their nests or young babies. People who don’t try to poke their fingers or heads close to a swan’s nest have nothing to worry about. Swans are rarely aggressive as long as they are not provoked.

However, some swans are naturally short-tempered and may attack humans even when they mind their own business. One tragic incident happened in 2012 near a Chicago pond. A swan attacked a kayaker, knocked him into the water, and kept holding him until he drowned.

Another story was reported in 2014 near the River Cam. The rowers and other visitors complained about repeated attacks from an aggressive swan named Mr. Asbo. This swan even got the attention of the Queen of England, who then approved the bird’s relocation to another spot.

Swans are believed to be aggressive or intimidating when catching the food thrown by the waterfowl visitors. If the person teases the swan when feeding food, the bird may lose their temper and attack them.

How to Act When a Swan Attacks You

If you’re a bird watcher and love swans, you shouldn’t fear visiting these birds. Swans are generally non-aggressive. But if it’s not your lucky day, you may get into a terrifying situation. So, what to do in such a situation?

Never turn your back on the bird and start running. Doing so will make the swan think you’re actually guilty and a threat to their family. Thus, they will keep running after you until they catch you.

Similarly, sprinting off from the situation may also make things worse for you. So instead, stay calm whenever you see an angry swan and slowly move backward while facing the swan.

Also, open your arms as wide as possible to show yourself big and intimidating to the swan. This way, they may retreat and drop the thought of opening a full-scale attack.

swan and its chicks
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Are Swans as Aggressive as Geese?

Like swans, geese also show aggression when protecting their nests during breeding. However, geese are not as heavy as swans, so they primarily rely on noisier violence against other birds and humans.

Swans take advantage of their sheer size and use it to cause fear and damage to their predators.

But generally, swans and geese are not the most aggressive birds. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) found that geese and swans are pretty protective of their families. So, they don’t hesitate to attack anyone that tries to intrude on their territories.

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Final Thoughts

Swans are one of the most beautiful and heaviest flying birds. They are naturally non-aggressive but can get violent when someone tries to trespass on their territories.

A swan can get angry when a human tries to tease them while feeding them food. They also get aggressive when competing for food with other birds.

An angry swan makes loud hissing noises and violently flaps its wings. When this doesn’t make the enemy back off, they tuck their head under the wings and move with full speed toward the predator. They make this posture (known as busking) on land and water both.

Featured Image Credit: suju-foto, Pixabay

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.