Saturday, December 13, 2014 Salmon-eating, mallard-beating Swans

Seward, Alaska

The Lagoon by Benny Benson Park on Dairy Hill Lane was packed with birds on Saturday. Thin ice over much of the Lagoon restricted waterfowl at the north end to a narrow lead of open water.  MALLARDS, COMMON GOLDENEYES, and BUFFLEHEAD warily watched the BALD EAGLES lurking in the nearby spruce, standing in the shallow water, fighting over scraps, and flying suspiciously low overhead.

The THAYER’S GULL and several GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS picked through the ragged and pitiful remains of the silver salmon bounty. RAVENS and NORTHWESTERN CROWS strode about like treasure hunters with invisible metal detectors, looking for anything remotely edible or enviable.

The main attraction, however, was the famous local TRUMPETER SWAN family of six. The huge birds certainly stood out as the overwhelming stars of the scene. One cygnet lay casually on the snow-dusted shore, its orangish webbed foot sticking out as if to air, or perhaps thermo-regulate.

I glanced over at one of the adults who was busy at work on long, worn-out gray rag, chomping it with its strong black bill, then beating it on the ground like laundry. Another cygnet stood nearby, watching with interest. I looked closer and was stunned to see the rag was an old salmon carcass. I knew mallards loved to eat salmon eggs and nibble on carcasses, but I never have seen an elegant swan eat salmon, dead or alive. Times must be tough for the royalty!

After picking off any possible scraps from the sorry carcass, the swans drifted off to join the rest of the family in the water. Watched closely by a drooling young Bald Eagle wading nearby, the swans scoured the bottom for calories. A drake mallard, one of many scouting for leftovers, apparently got too close to one cygnet. The swan grabbed the mallard by the tail and gave him a thorough thrashing, almost to the point of drowning him. Finally, the hapless drake escaped, water streaming off its waterproof head and back.

Afterwards, the cygnet rose up and stretched those magnificent angel wings, stroking them back and forth as if to take off like a dabbler. More mallards swam past, oblivious and apparently clueless to personal space issues. The young eagle learned a lesson on messing with swans. He didn’t.

The satisfied cygnet folded its wings like origami and peace returned as mallard feathers floated serenely around the crime scene.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

No comments:

Post a Comment