Tuesday, August 16, 2016 Swan Commotion

Seward, Alaska

I had just checked the Nash Road resident TRUMPETER SWAN family yesterday and found the seven cygnets and both parents packed into a small area near the road, feeding. So today, when I saw both parents side by side in the pond, I decided to drive past.

Then I saw a THIRD white swan! I immediately pulled over to investigate this startling new situation.

All was not well at home base.

The sleek, beautiful third swan seemed peaceful but alert, resting and paddling quietly among the sedges. The parents, however were having a conniption, bobbing their long, graceful necks up and down, very upset. As they became more and more agitated, they swam side by side out into the open, heads still bobbing, as if to confirm the intruder was indeed still there, and then swam back behind the vegetation to further discuss the situation. They nervously lifted and lowered their folded wings, as if undecided.

The intruder continued to placidly feed, feigning nonchalance, and slowly paddled along in a very non-threatening manner. The parents, still side by side, heads bobbing faster and faster, trumpeting softly, swam back out and closer. Suddenly, the mom (ever so slightly smaller and without white feathers on her bill from preening) erupted into action, bounding along the water with giant steps, white wings beating furiously, neck outstretched, open beak foremost, and the intent quite plain.

The intruder watched in disbelief and then wisely took off. They both lifted off and flew across the pond gaining altitude. The mom closing in, stretched her neck to grab the intruder’s tail, but couldn’t quite reach. Nonetheless, she tailgated the intruder and chased it away. Then she broke off and circled back to the pond. Trumpeting triumphantly, she skidded to a stop with a big splash in front of her waiting mate. If swans could hug and kiss, that’s just what they did, with several high fives thrown in for good measure.

I glanced over at the pond, and to my amazement, there was the intruder who had also circled back and quietly landed. This was one persistent swan!

The parents finally noticed this impudent swan’s return and the high fives faded. More tête-à-tête discussion ensued with head bobbing and soft trumpeting. After a long interlude, the mom again took off, flying low, heading directly for the intruder.  At the last moment, it raced along the water and took off. Again, the parents gathered to celebrate with wings held half open, heads nodding, their trumpeting echoing off the surrounding mountainside.

But guess what? That intruder again circled back and landed.

The mom again chased it off, and another celebration ensued.

Unbelievably, the intruder circled back and was now preening on the ol’ nest site. This confirmed my suspicion that this was no ordinary swan. The familiarity with the pond and nest site, lack of fear of the adjacent road and paparazzi… this was an older cygnet come home at a rather awkward time.

Hi mom, hi dad! I’m home and ready to move back in!

Mom didn’t much care for that, and took off without any discussion. Heading straight for her former darling, she narrowly avoided hitting it on the head when it did not move from the nest site. That was lucky for the cygnet! She careened to a stop in the water, and regrouped, wings held out in a very menacing arch.

By now, the cygnet had wised up a bit, but not too much, and landed on the water. Mom took off once again and gave chase, trumpeting loudly. She chased it to the far end of the pond where, guess what? All seven young cygnets were waiting and watching. I imagine they had been told to hide there until the danger passed.

The older cygnet, the big threat, landed behind them in the tall grasses and disappeared.

It must have been an “out of sight, out of mind” situation as the mom stopped the chase. She sat on the pond, wings arched, as dad came racing across the pond to congratulate her. With more loud trumpeting, they once again high-fived in a joyous celebration. What a beautiful sight, these two tremendous parents, all amped up in righteous fury, bonding in defense of their family.

When I returned an hour later, the older cygnet was once again peacefully feeding in the pond near the road as if nothing had happened. The parents were preening on the nest site, and the seven cygnets were still at the back of the pond, revealed only when one or another stretched its white wings above the greenery.

This peaceful interlude did not last, however. Once again, the mom took off, and temporarily routed the enemy.  Lather, rinse, repeat. I don’t know how long this exhausting and dramatic routine continued, as I finally had to leave.

What was especially poignant was the plaintive trumpeting of the older cygnet. Whenever it spoke, the parents got all riled up, and answered in an angry barrage. It’s tough to come home after a year (or two or three) out in the wild world, and be attacked by your once doting parents. But all that mattered was the perceived threat, and given the tremendous success of these excellent parents over the past three years and 17 cygnets, that’s what counted.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


  1. Thanks for another great story, Carol!


  2. Thanks for sharing!