Wednesday, February 24, 2016 Two Swans Too Many

Seward, Alaska

When I arrived on the scene, the four resident TRUMPETER SWAN cygnets were clustered quietly together in the middle of the open pond. Oddly, the adults were nowhere in sight. Was it already time to be evicted?

Then I saw two pairs of white swans flying in the distance. Were they compatibly sharing the airspace, or was something “fowl” afoot? As they approached, the cygnets also turned to watch them. Two adults, with a significant lead on the following pair, flew low over the water. They extended their large black webbed feet and waterskied alongside the waiting cygnets and stopped just beyond them. Were these the parents?

No! Almost immediately, a parent Swan hurtled in and started chasing one of the first Swans, now identified as the intruder. It was hard to keep track of the four adults in all the splashing and excitement. Which were the loving parents, and which were the brazen intruders? Why were they targeting the cygnets instead of the parents?

As the parents chased one intruder, the other turned back and held out its massive wings in a menacing arch as it paddled towards the nervous cygnets, head tucked back to strike. The cygnets huddled, confused, some with wings outstretched, ready to flee. I’m sure nothing this scary has ever happened to the youngsters. To have a Swan that looks just like your parents attack is even more scary than eagles, or coyotes at night.

The glowering swan continued to paddle closer, wings arched. Then it seemed to settle down as the cygnets watched, still confused. Peace returned momentarily. I was pretty confused too. Was this dear old dad (or mom), amped up on adrenalin after the flight chase? Or one of the intruders?

Without warning, the Swan turned and attacked the cygnets with its fierce beak and strong wings. In the flurry of wings and water it was hard to see what was happening. The cygnets got smart fast and beat it out of there. As that Swan settled down, a second adult appeared, running on the water, flapping its wings, gaining speed on one of the running cygnets, its white neck extended and black beak open. 

The frightened cygnet finally got lift-off and flew out of reach and the agitated Swan stopped, its wings still held out in that menacing arch near the other two nearby cygnets.

Then more pattering as big, black, webbed feet smacked the water and here comes another adult Swan, long neck outstretched and aiming for business. Was it dad (or mom)? No! The first? intruder had circled around and rushed past to attack yet another fleeing cygnet. So confusing! Wish these guys were tagged!

More rapid pattering, wings beating, and honking! It was the Calvary in the form of a very upset parent! The intruder Swan leaped into flight mode, racing across the water, past the farthest cygnet without pause. Such pandemonium! Everyone was upset!

After finally being chased across an invisible line, the two intruders took a break, resting quietly. Fierce, but nonetheless, such beautiful swans!

The triumphant parents swam over to their scattered youngsters, past a BALD EAGLE that had watched it all from a driftwood perch. The happy family reunited, a picture of peace and tranquility, as if nothing had happened. The show over, the Eagle flew off.

As the parents exchanged a tender moment together, I too turned to go. A flock of about 30 SNOW BUNTINGS whirled overhead like tumbling brown alder leaves and disappeared. How wonderful to see them too! What a day!

Then I heard honking, and turned around. The female intruder was flying around the pond, too near the family. Again, one of the parents shot off after her, honking and running like mad, wings stroking powerfully. The female took the hint and cleared out of there fast.

Once again, the two parents got together and debriefed and peace returned. It was another touching moment between two excellent, powerful, protective parents. For the second year in a row, they have raised their cygnets here through the long winters and whatever the weather. In 2014 they raised four cygnets, and in 2015, a remarkable six.

As these new swans seem very familiar with the area, I just wonder if the dominant male, or both, are from the 2014 family. Are they hoping to nest here? THAT will be a battle as the only suitable spot is the Nash Road wetlands and there is NO sharing. Will they disperse farther up the road to the Mile 15 wetlands or beyond? Where will the 2015 cygnets go if, as we hope, the parents nest again starting in April?

The Seward Trumpeter Swans live a fascinating, exciting, dangerous, and ever- evolving drama. I am so lucky to get a peek into their live theater now and then.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


  1. What an encounter. Carol, wonderful photo capture

  2. Wow, what an amazing thing to capture. Thanks for sharing the story. It was exciting to read. You made me feel like I was there.