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My Protector –
March 17, 2003 – Spring
has sprung down here in the deep south. An
early spell of balmy weather has pushed the forsythia,
Japanese magnolias into full bloom. The
grass is turning green again. Here at our house, all the
and cherry trees are poised to open.
We usually think of spring as a season of renewal, but if you
happen to live near a Mute swan, spring can be a season
of terror. Last Sunday I was viciously
attacked by our four-year-old Mute swan, Little Big. Breeding
season has arrived,
young swan – who has just reached adulthood – is
proving to be every bit as aggressive as was his daddy, the
Swan Psychology 101
Before I describe how I narrowly escaped death at
the hands (wings) of Little Big, I will give you a "short-course"
on the Mute swan.
not allow yourself to be seduced by their quiet beauty.
As the name suggests, mute swans are usually silent, but
not always... a Mute
have foul, fowl tempers, and they are formidable creatures.
Adult Mutes usually weigh around 40 pounds and have wingspans
in their third year and they can live, with proper care,
for twenty years. During breeding season they establish
large territories of up to
encompassing a small body of water and its surrounding shoreline.
pond is 8 acres.) The breeding season runs from
early March through July, sometimes into August. During
this time, the Mute will aggressively defend his domain,
nest, and he will attempt to drive out any creature
that approaches. ("Anger
management" is definitely not part of a breeding Mute's vocabulary.)
Mute swans have been known to attack other waterfowl, large
and small predators, dogs, and people. It
is important to understand that the most dangerous part
swan is not,
as one would expect, his beak. His primary
weapon – and a very dangerous one – is
his wing, which he uses to repeatedly "club" his
of force. Blows from a Mute can maim a large predator, seriously
injure a child, or break a person's arm. Reportedly, back
in 1982, an Indiana fisherman was killed after his boat was
by an angry Mute. He was then beaten about the head until
he drowned. [Audubon,
vol. 99, no. 6.]
Sunday's attack began while I was taking
pictures in the front yard, accompanied by my 8-year-old
Dane, Merlin. As I turned to walk back toward
Big leapt out of the pond and rushed me from behind.
He grabbed onto my jacket with his beak and began ferociously
beating me about the legs with his wings. I tried to get away,
but could not. Little Big had attached himself to me. All I
could see was a flurry of white, and all I could hear was the
as those big white wings bashed my legs again and again. I
was afraid to extend my arms for fear Little Big would
break them. Then suddenly it was over. Miraculously, Merlin – my
dear, sweet, white-faced boy – had
inserted himself between us. The swan headed back to the water
I retreated to the house. Merlin was completely unscathed,
thank goodness. I was not so lucky. My legs
hurt and I watched
in horror over the next several hours as giant purple
bruises developed up and down my legs. In all, I was left with
ten angry welts, some as large as the palm of my hand. It was
not a pretty sight.
What to do?
Clearly we have to do something about this. If Little
was a person, I would have called the
police. No doubt he'd be in jail right now
and battery charges.
And because Little Big attacks without provocation,
I doubt he'd be let out on bond anytime soon.
Unfortunately, we can't send our renegade swan to the county
jail, so we need to find him a new home in a
more strictly controlled environment. And we need to do that
as soon as possible, because Little Big will become even more
aggressive after his mate starts laying her eggs and sitting
on the nest. He attacked
us again just
the other evening while we were on the dock.
He literally bounced up in the water, reached over the
of the dock with one of his giant wings,
and clubbed my husband on his wrist. Then he swam off, hissing.
We are much more careful now when we go anywhere near the water.
We make sure we have a defensive weapon such
as a long sturdy tree branch or a broom handle. Little Big
is not a stupid bird; when he sees us with a pole, he stays
of reach. So for now, we're all managing to get along. Just
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