Swan-versation – part I

This is part I of a two part series on Trumpeter swan conversations — hence swan-versation — I observed the other day in Monticello on the Mississippi River. Some of these exchanges involve the graceful duets of the courting couple, and some, not so pleasant, involve the aggressive squawking and maneuvering between pairs of swans, as they show off and try to exert dominance over each other.

Both courtship and aggressive behaviors involve a little puffing out of the chest and flapping of the wings.  It's hard to tell whether these are two males trying to show off to their mates or to each other.

Both courtship and aggressive behaviors involve a little puffing out of the chest and flapping of the wings. It’s hard to tell whether these are two males trying to show off to their mates or to each other.

Trumpeter swan pairs can exhibit aggression toward other pairs, which is mostly likely occuring here.  Two pairs of swans swam toward each other, initiating this encounter.

Trumpeter swan pairs can exhibit aggression toward other pairs, which is mostly likely occuring here. Two pairs of swans swam toward each other, initiating this encounter.

From just trumpeting at each other, fights escalate into wing flapping, extending the neck and standing up straight so as to appear taller than the competitor in the water.

From just trumpeting at each other, fights escalate into wing flapping, extending the neck and standing up straight so as to appear taller than the competitor in the water.

And from there it might escalate to an aggressive neck thrust and nip with the beak.  Another thing long necks are good for.

And from there it might escalate to an aggressive neck thrust and nip with the beak. Another thing long necks are good for.

Of course, that requires retaliation.

Of course, that requires retaliation.

Other pairs might join in the dispute.  This fight started with just two birds facing off and ended up with 5 or 6.

Other pairs might join in the dispute — as reproductive hormones surge. This fight started with just two birds facing off and ended up with 5 or 6 involved in the “flap”.

Of course, it's hard to protect your personal space when you're so crowded together.

Of course, it’s hard to protect your personal space when you’re so crowded together.

The “swan-versation” is carried out well above 70 decibels of sound intensity (the level of most household noises), so it’s remarkable that any meaningful messages are sent or received.

UPDATE:  The video that I loaded last night didn’t show up, so I have re-inserted it here.

Trumpeter Swans at Monticello from Sue Chaplin on Vimeo.

8 thoughts on “Swan-versation – part I

  1. There’s a whole lot going on when there are that many birds in such a contained space and you have done a great job with your commentary on some of that action. I have listened to a video of these birds and was amazed at how loud they can get. I wonder if the primary message is in the actions or in the vocalizations (and suspect that it is mostly the actions).

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