Oct 2012 - Swans

This was swan territory. Many geese live nearby on other ponds and along the banks of the many rivers and streams of the Blackstone River watershed. But this pond belonged to the swans and the swans and the geese, like the rival gangs in a turf war, don’t share.

The geese scouts are already in place, unbeknownst (apparently) to the swans.

Geese scouts watching

Swans will happily share their nesting grounds with ducks and divers. Herons pose a serious threat to smaller fowl (all fowl are smaller) because they will eat the eggs and (if they can get them) the young of ducks, geese and swans until the babies are big enough to defend themselves.

Herons are more solitary and like loons, build nests in places hard to find by people or and other birds.

Swan's Nest

This spring, the geese came to the pond. In an expansionist move that broke all previous treaties, they moved in and actually took over a nest belonging the a pair of lordly and bad-tempered swans. It was war. We were there when the geese conducted a surprise raid on the swans.

First assault on the nest

First, the geese surrounded the nest and infiltrated. Geese are faster, organized and more mobile than swans. Swans are bigger, heavier and hold grudges. Geese can take off and land easily from almost anywhere, land or water. Swans need a long running start across flat water to get airborne. They are virtually helpless on land, bodies so heavy they can barely waddle. They are disorganized. Swans aren’t good rank and file soldiers, but they compensate with long memories and seriously bad attitudes.

The geese surrounded the nest while one of the two swans was away. The timing was good for the geese. With only one swan to defend against the attack, the lone swan was out-flanked.

Swan defends

The battle continued while papa swan paddles back to the nest. But he’s taking far too long.

Battle rages Swans V Geese

Battle Rage Swans V Geese

The odds are not with the swan, alone, defending her turf. Where’s her partner? Paddling like mad, but he was on the far side of the pond … and will not be back in time.

So what happened? We came back. There were no sign of geese, but the swans were still there. They must have rebuilt a nest elsewhere, because there were more than the usual number of cygnets.


Feeding happily, sharing space with Mama Duck and her ducklings.

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Taking the family for a stroll while papa duck keeps watch o’er the ramparts. No geese here!


The kids venture out on their own. They are now big enough to defend themselves and are likely to survive to maturity. It’s not, mind you, that I have anything against the geese. But they have taken over the majority of ponds and lakes in the valley. There are far fewer sites where swans breed. If they can’t share space — and clearly, they can’t — than I’d prefer this place for swans and ducks.

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Categories: #animals, #Photography, Cameras, Nature, Water

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14 replies

  1. I love the way you described the battle. Lovely photos, too!


    • It’s really interesting. And we just happened to be there. Some of the pictures? The birds were so far away, all I could see was movement. My camera caught it, but my eyes didn’t see it. Only time that’s ever happened to me 🙂


  2. I never know what I am going to hit when I wonder around your site. Love the swans and as usual, a GREAT post! 🙂


    • How funny! How absolutely funny! TODAY is 11/02!!!!!!! However, I did browse around looking for posts on Westerns. Linked to several on my short post @Awakenings just published – Hail to the Cowboy and Westerns! The book signing was ok. Did not walk away with a million bucks but also not empty handed. Saw a classmate I had not seen since 1960! Also came away with some pointers and cool info. Hugs!


      • Time has fled. Book signings are fun especially if they are a group of authors. You get to meet other local writers. And your neighbors. It’s not really about making a ton of money. It’s more about networking.


    • It’s really an ongoing story that began in March. I decided to put the story together since I finally know the whole story. I’m glad you liked it. I’ve become quite invested in our local swans, their trials and tribulations. Like friends. Feathered.


  3. I know nothing about waterfowl, well a little more now, and found this really interesting. I’ve heard that Geese are really aggressive and people use them for watchdogs, but who knew they actually invaded and started ground wars. Luckily they don’t live in my neighborhood. I like my little nest.


    • The geese people use for watchdogs (yes, they do) are domestic geese, but their personalities are not much different than the wild ones. Turf wars amongst animals — on the ground, in the air, and on the water — are common, more so now that there’s less turf every year as humans eliminate their natural habitats. Geese and swans are enemies. There’s no wrong or right, though I think the swans are easier to live with as neighbors simply because they stay on the pond and don’t move into your backyard!


  4. We too have succumbed to the invading flocks of freeloading geese, who roam the neighboring horse farms all summer and then, with much packing and fussing, manage to make the aduous journey 6 miles east to the winter pond, and hang out there eating provided grains and probably fluffy goose down pillows for their sleeping accomodations. The novelty has worn off.

    Im guessing we might have our own DNA driven imperatives, probably a bit of swan in some of us, and a bit of goose in others. Some of us share, and some dont, in the same way that humans also seem to be divided into two camps as to ‘gypsy’ and ‘nester’. We are not that far from caves and tree dwellers, not that distanced from ancestors who migrated regularly north to south and back, following warmth, or herds, or tides.

    I love the photos, and the marvelous descriptions that go along with them. Thank you.


    • I didn’t plan to become an aficianado of geese and swans, but we have Whitins pond. It’s big. We pass it whenever we go anywhere. It’s on both sides of three different main roads. It’s formed by the junction of two rivers and a swamp. We caught the battle entirely accidentally, just passing by. Noticed something happening. Both of us had cameras, but I was lucky and had the really long lens Olumpus (I don’t usually carry it). After that, I did som reading up. The balance of power in nature is fragile and the dominance of species change. The outcome of that day’s battle might have meant the end of the swans on the pond. I’m glad it didn’t. But this stuff happens.

      More than ten years ago, on Martha’s Vineyard, the cormerants came and drove the American Eagles inland. There was no battle. The cormerants are just better fishers. The eagles couldn’t compete. It wasn’t anything mankind had done and we were not allowed to change the outcome, though many people wanted to keep the eagles and drive away the cormerants. Now the eagles live in this valley and along the Merrimack where they seem to be lords of all they survey, so perhaps that was the way it was supposed to be. I’m still glad we have the swans. They are ill tempered, but beautiful. And they don’t take over parking lots and malls like the geese.


  5. Given how unwilling humans are to compromise even though we are ostensibly *able*, I’d say we aren’t terribly far from the geese and swans. Silly geese, at the least!


    • Geese are aggressive and work together in groups. They’ve been highly succesful in taking over much of the water in the valley — and there’s a lot of water. More than enough for every species. Swans will share space with smaller water fowl, especially ducks, loons and divers. Geese don’t share, period, but are wary of herons and give them a wide berth. Water fowl are ruled by DNA-driven imperatives. What’s OUR excuse?


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