Swans in combat

In the early morning, an image of serenity.

But as I write I’m in Central London, and I want to show you a rather distressing encounter with two swans in Hyde Park. You have been warned. I took a video (included at the end), and then extracted stills from it so I could comment. Here we go.

I saw two swans creating a big hullabaloo, partly screened by the reeds. This usually means either mating or fighting, but the reeds made it impossible to tell.

I walked on, and ten minutes later realized they had caught up with me and were still at it, close to the water’s edge. Once I got a good look, this was clearly not an amorous encounter. One swan was grabbing the other swan’s neck,

and holding its head underwater for prolonged periods:

These immersions went on for perhaps ten minutes. The by-now-exhausted underdog (underswan?) realized he would be safer on shore:

The aggressor wasn’t going to let him off so easily. First he tried to pin him down using his whole body:

Then he grabbed him by the nape of the neck

and tried to pull him back into the water:

The losing swan summoned up a burst of energy and almost struggled free:

But he was quickly overwhelmed again and submerged once more; this time the superior swan added insult to injury by sitting on the inferior one’s neck :

A local swan charity guesses that this was a territorial dispute, and they do sometimes end in the death of one swan, typically by drowning. Whatever it was, no quarter was being given.

Now watch this video, in which the sheer relentlessness and viciousness of the attack is fully apparent, and see how it all ended. It is much longer than my usual videos (3.44 minutes) , but you shouldn’t have to download it to watch it.

The abrupt ending was caused by a passer-by, who had seen enough, and grabbed the dominant swan by the neck and threw him off. He circled around looking affronted, then paddled away. Meanwhile the defeated swan hauled itself out of the water, with a glazed look in its eye, slowly straightened itself out, then settled down by its saviour’s feet. It was still there when I left twenty minutes later.

Below, to cheer you up, a solitary swan by the Thames.

PS Intervening in this way is usually frowned on, though I had some sympathy. As you could probably hear from the soundtrack, passing families were hurrying their small children past, either because they didn’t want them to watch a death, or because they still thought they might be mating!

2 thoughts on “Swans in combat”

  1. Wow, that’s indeed a very aggressive attack; to hold the other swan’s head under water repeatedly is disturbing. Surprising there was no blood shed, although the swan must have been quite sore & scared. Your last photo is beautiful.


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