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12 Bad (And Good) Facts About Swans You Might Not Know

Updated May 20, 2020 13.3k views12 items
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Swans are typically considered symbols of grace and beauty, but they have an ugly side; swans are mean, and sustaining injuries from the sometimes vicious birds is more common than you'd expect. Most of us have seen the image of two swans with their heads bowing together in the shape of a heart, and while they do mate for life, these aggressive birds aren't exactly romantic. Why are swans so hostile? And can the massive, territorial birds cause bodily injury?

Turns out, there's plenty you probably don't know about swans. They're extremely intelligent, and they're not afraid to defend their nests. In fact, a series of swans in England have been terrorizing rowers for nearly a decade. Next time you're at a lake or river, keep an eye out for these clever but inimical creatures.

  • Now There's Asboy, Who's Even Worse Than Mr. Asbo

    Photo: Photophr33k / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    England may have rid itself of Asbo, but Asboy took his place in 2014. Just like Mr. Asbo, Asboy attacks rowers who dare enter his territory. Asboy flies into river-goers, bites chain-link fences, and pursues watercraft.

    Unsurprisingly, Asboy became somewhat of a tourist attraction, with people coming to the river to watch his antics and snap photos. There is also an Asbaby now, adding to the new generation of mean swans who carry on Asbo's legacy.

  • The Swan Upping Is An Amazing English Tradition

    Photo: Lisa Lawley / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    In England, all of the swans are counted each July in a process called the Swan Upping. The Queen owns all of the swans along the River Thames, and it's a tradition that began in the 12th century when the birds were a food source for the rich. The Queen's Swan Warden and the Royal Swan Uppers run the show. When the Uppers are ready to grab a swan, they yell, "All up!" and capture the bird. The swan is inspected, and any swans who are ill or injured are nursed back to health.

    The English take the Swan Upping very seriously. The Crown asks that photographers don't take photos of swans doing anything violent and that the press doesn't portray the Upping in a negative light; England's swans have an better PR team than most American celebrities.

  • Swans Can Get Lead Poisoning

    Photo: ajmatthehiddenhouse / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    In the 1980s, the swan population in England declined. During the Swan Upping, researchers discovered that the birds were becoming ill after eating lead fishing weights. Because England clearly cares about its swans very much, the weights were promptly banned, and the swan population has since flourished.

  • Sometimes Mute Swans Are Managed Lethally

    Photo: gizmo-the-bandit / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Because mute swans aren't a native species in America, some governments choose to manage their populations by killing the birds. For example, Ohio's swan management plan notes that mute swans damage their environments and chase off trumpeter swans, which are native species. Given these factors, Ohio manages mute swans with "humane lethal methods."

    The state of New York actually changed their lethal mute swan management policy after public outcry. Prior to the change, the state more or less wanted to completely eradicate mute swans. Now, the plan calls for non-lethal management.