Battle of the Nests – Chapter 3

When I first started following the drama at Whitins Pond, the Canada Geese had come and taken over the nest belonging to the pond‘s long term residents, Mr. and Mrs. Mute-Swan.

The battle is waged.

The battle is waged.

The daring fait accompli has not been without ramifications, however. The Mute-Swan family has built a new nest in an adjacent curve of the pond, a swampy, shallow area with excellent nearby food sources and a clear 360 degree view of the surrounding area.

Today, we followed Mr. Swan as he patrolled his piece of the pond, keeping a wary and belligerent eye out for The Enemy Geese.

Mr. Mute-Swan enters the narrow and shallow channels leading to the swampy area where the new nest has been built.

Mr. Mute-Swan enters the narrow and shallow channels leading to the swampy area where the new nest has been built.

Looking right left, then snaking his head behind, he headed for home by the most indirect route possible.


Garry and I, cameras hanging all over the place followed Mr. Swan’s passage through reeds and swamp grass. He made one brief check to make sure we were not a threat or, alternatively, packing goodies for him. I apologized but had not had the foresight to bring bread. Sorry kids. Next time!


Having ascertained that we were neither a threat nor a source of food, papa Swan proceeds to the nest where he joins Mrs. Swan who is still fixing up her nest and could really use a little help.


Together they enjoy a few cozy moments, rearranging pieces of grass and reeds and weeds and suchlike.

But ho! What evil lurks just beyond the nest? Those devil geese are spying on the new nest? Uh oh!


As you can imagine, the Mute-Swans were not happy about this. They stayed in their nest and made evil eyes at the geese until the Canada Geese took flight. Using a widely circuitous flying path, the geese returned to their (stolen) nest


You can run (fly) geese, but you cannot hide!  Mr. Mute-Swan because knows where you live because your nest was HIS nest before you snatched it. And Mr. Mute-Swan holds a grudge. If he had shoulders, there would be a very big chip on them.

After the geese flew home to the other end of the pond, mom and dad Mute-Swan spent a some more time snuggling and arranging furnishings.


Were the geese lulled into a false sense of security thinking that Mr. Swan forgave or forgot? Not on your life. As soon as the missus was settled in, Mr. Swan decided it was time to swim next door to harass bad neighbor Canada Geese.

Garry, stationed at the other end of the bridge, picks up from here.

Garry, stationed at the other end of the bridge, picks up from here.

Mr. Swan spots his hated neighbors.

“Aha!” he says in Swan-ese. “Never shall these evil geese know a moment’s peace while I’m on the pond!” Gathering himself together, he gets ready to show those geese a thing or two!

Attack mode!

Attack mode!


“I’ll show you, nest stealing demon geese!”

It’s going to be a long, hot summer down on Whitins Pond. Very long and hot, hot, hot!

What struck me the most about this was how human the birds’ behavior is. The geese, having already stolen the swans’ nest have no reason to keep bugging the swans. And the big male swan, having built a new nest, had no reason at all to go over to the geese and harass them. He was simply pissed off at the geese and wanted to get a little of his own back. He had clearly no intention or expectation that he would be able to drive the geese away. He just did it to annoy them. Pure revenge.

I didn’t know birds could hold a grudge. I didn’t think water fowl committed acts of vengeance. I didn’t know animals could behave in a way that is as petty as people. I’m betting that although the geese won the battle, they will never know a moment’s peace on Whitins Pond because that big bad Mr. Swan is not going to ever forgive or forget the insult of having his nesting place usurped by a couple of geese.

That’s about as human as it gets. Next thing you know, they’ll be setting up a government and giving tickets for swimming too fast in the channels.


Categories: Animals, Ecology, Nature, photo, Photography, Water, Weather

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. I have a family of the small red breasted eagles each year. Also several single young males, very interesting.
    Thank you and yes please, keep us updated about family life on the pond.
    If you type in or Google, man killed by geese, there a story about a researcher killed this past year. He was in his kyack, was attacked and died. Yup, territorial.


  2. You will have to keep us informed on the situation… Is CNN involved yet?


  3. Best violence I’ve covered since I retired. I’m still a “Pilgrim” with the camera but Marilyn is a great tutor. Looks like our version of the Hatfields vrs The McCoys. I’m gearing up for the next episode of “Law And Order: Uxbridge”.


  4. BTW, as you know, the only thing nastier than a territorial (or horny) Goose is a territorial (or horny) Swan. And, of course, vice-versa. Had a friend once, a willowy blonde, who became the object of a lone, horny Canada Goose’s passionate obsession. It wasn’t pretty. I think she had to carry a pitchfork with her until breeding season was over.


    • Well, they certainly are not displaying the best side of their personalities. It’s a fowl little war going on. They don’t even care whether they get anything out of it. They are just harassing each other because they can. The geese have the flying advantage. Swans do not easily take to the air and need a very long runway, while the geese can just up up and away on a whim. But on the water, the swans have a definite weight advantage, not to mention a long neck advantage, though the geese have them on sheer aggression and organization. And Chutzpa.

      On Thu, Apr 25, 2013 at 10:08 AM, SERENDIPITY


  5. You know I can’t help cheering for Geese under any circumstances. I am obsessed. A devotee. (Sorry, Swans.)

    Back when the Internet was new (or young) (or at least when we all had shiny new AOL accounts right after what was it, Delphi?) I created the world’s first website devoted solely to the irrational, obsessive love of Canada Geese. Initially hand-coded in HTML 1, or maybe HTML minus 1, or possibly HTML Hieroglyphics, LOL, It was up for years, giving kids someplace to filtch their reports from, until I got distracted by my ever-challenging, single-parent-of-teenage-boys existence and lost the URL.

    What I learned from listening to my visitors was that Canada Geese exhibit every human vice and virtue — you name it, if a human has done it, a Goose has done it: adoption, abandonment; monogamy, adultery (dunno about masturbation, tho — it was a G-rated site); heterosexuality, homosexuality (tho one never knows if it’s “merely” dominance behavior); day care, aunting and uncle-ing; immense tenderness, indifference, brutality. Everything. Leading, of course, to our dreadful (but invariably entertaining) inclination to anthropomorphize animal behaviors.

    I spent my lunch hours, every day for a year, weather (and in winter, our treacherous New Hampshire roads) permitting, visiting a pond near the office, sitting calmly on the banks until the resident flock came to trust me. With time The Patriarch (he was banded, so I knew his minimum approximate age, I think it was 12, from the date of the study) would come to visit, first remaining on the water and then ultimately, settling in next to me on the bank. Once he stretched out a wing — just to stretch — and inadvertently knocked me over … what a privilege it was to feel that immense power, the power that can fly these creatures 3000 miles. What next blew me away was his seeming apology as he checked me out to make sure I was OK.

    You know every Spring they disappear for a while, seeking privacy as they nest, and the pond seems empty for a while. Well, one day that Spring The Patriarch emerged from the hidden reaches of the pond with his wife and a line of tiny goslings, gliding up to and past my feet as if to show them off, and then retreating into the shadows again. What a moment that was!

    Your pix bring those sweet memories back. Thank you.


    • I’m a bird watcher from way back and I understand lots of instinctive behaviors and can ascribe almost everything to some atavistic instinctive thing or other. But yesterday was interesting because the birds are harassing each other with no possible gain to either team. It has become a grudge thing, a little Jukes and Kallikak feud. I don’t think it’s anthropomorphizing to be unable to ascribe any birdie instincts to this. There really isn’t any other explanation except that they really don’t like each other and are going to keep harassing each other and their nestlings until winter comes and everyone is too busy surviving to keep the war going. It’s interesting and a bit weird.

      I suspect what we call antropomorphizing is underestimating other creatures. They are more complicated than we want them to be and many biologists, ecologiest, etc. have a big investment in an embedded belief that only human animals think. But other species obviously DO think. Which probably means they also love. They plan ahead. They take revenge, hold grudges, and do stuff that cannot possible be ascribed to instinct unless you really stretch that point to breaking.



  1. War and Peace on Whitins Pond | SERENDIPITY
  2. Nesting Swans | SERENDIPITY

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