The swan dance: A true story

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mute swan
In late March of 2012, a domesticated, non-native, male mute swan arrived in a wetland in the Geauga County Park District. (Tami Gingrich photo)

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds states: “Mute swans are not native to North America. Their aggressive behavior and voracious appetites often disturb local ecosystems, displace native species and even pose a hazard to humans.”

In late March of 2012, a visitor arrived in a wetland at our county park district. The domesticated, non-native, male mute swan had no doubt evaded having his wings clipped and departed his old home in search of a new one. At first, he was shy and nonchalant, hanging out in a small area of deeper water near the beaver dam. But eventually, he began to iron out a territory to call his own, most likely in anticipation of attracting a mate.

As a biologist doing radio telemetry on spotted turtles, I was there daily, and he began to recognize me — thus our association began. Every time he spotted me, he would drift a little closer, when finally, the day came when he waded through the muck and ambled right up onto the old railroad right-of-way where I waited.

We stood, less than a foot apart, eyeballing each other. I was simply curious what he would do. Within seconds, I had my answer. Suddenly, he was all over me, wings and feet beating at my lower torso. I aggressively forced him to retreat all the way back into the swamp and thought, well, he won’t be doing THAT again.

How wrong I was! This encounter only seemed to fuel his fire. It didn’t matter where in the wetland he was when I arrived on the trail, he would immediately take flight and fly in as close to me as he could get. It was quite a sight to see his imposing white form gliding through the marsh as he sailed across. Then, he would plod through the mud onto shore and approach. Most days he would just escort me down the trail until I out-walked him. Doing a daily dance with this swan became part of my routine.

Eventually, he started to show aggression toward park visitors too, but it didn’t compare with his feelings for me. Then, one day after I had skirted around him and was well on the way back to my vehicle, I heard a commotion. I turned to see him 200 feet away, flying straight down the center of that narrow railroad right-of-way, wings outstretched the entire width of the path, not more than four feet off the ground. He was headed straight toward me.

Armed with nothing but my wimpy little tracking antenna, I extended it outward and closed my eyes. The impact was dead on, a total body slam that hurled me backwards and almost threw me to the ground. I thought about retaliation, but the look in his eyes bid me to make a quick escape while I was still able. That was our final dance.

Unless a quick home could be found, he would have to be eliminated. As chance would have it, he was casually mentioned on a visit to a local fish farm and the owner was thrilled at the prospect of having him as a new addition to his ponds. I had mixed feelings about our final encounter.

As if on cue, he flew in from the farthest point in the wetlands when he spotted me. He took his time wading through the mire and ambled up to my side where he tilted his head and stared up into my eyes as if to say “you actually want more?”

I gently reached out, grabbed him by the neck and quickly straddled his broad back, holding his huge wings tightly to his sides. It was that easy. A recyclable trash can, served as the perfect transport as we whisked him away to his new home, his head poking out through the hole used for depositing cans. I must say that during the ensuing days, my visits to the wetland were rather uneventful. Peace had returned to the marsh. Our dance was done.

Tami Gingrich wrangling the mute swan of her nightmares
Following several confrontations, Tami Gingrich wrangled and found the misplaced mute swan that invaded Geauga Park District in 2012 a new home. (Submitted photo)

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A life-long resident of Geauga County in northeast Ohio, Tami Gingrich recently retired from a 31-year career as a Biologist/Field Naturalist with Geauga Park District. Tami has been a licensed bird bander for over 30 years. Her hobbies include photography, lepidoptera, gardening and spending time with her husband on their small farm in Middlefield, Ohio. She welcomes any questions or comments at Royalwalnutmoth@gmail.com and will gladly consider suggestions for future articles.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I love the “aggressively forced him to retreat”! I’d love to see a picture of his head sticking out the top of the waste bin!
    Thanks.

  2. Really enjoyed the Mute Swan article.You have a way describing your experience,
    so I could see myself right there with you.
    I like the size comparison photo between the Canada Goose and the Mute Swan,
    and the photo of you holding the swan shows real courage on your part.
    Your articles are fun to read,educational and I look forward to it each week.
    Thank you so much!

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