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

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.


  • A Swan Once Drowned A Man

    A Swan Once Drowned A Man
    Photo: LHG Creative Photography / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    A 37-year-old Illinois man drowned in 2012 when a swan tipped over his canoe. Witnesses claimed that the swan prevented the man from swimming to safety. Experts said that the bird was likely defending its nest, but the man's widow sued the property management company for $50,000 for "knowingly keeping dangerous animals on the premises."

  • Swans Can Hurt You, But They Probably Won't

    Swans Can Hurt You, But They Probably Won't
    Photo: wwarby / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    With a wingspan of around seven feet, swans are huge, and while they can harm you, they probably aren't going to kill you or even break bones. Experts say that the hissing and wing flapping are mostly for show and that swans pose no real threat to the average adult.

    Most reports of swans hurting people occur when the animals are provoked or antagonized; swan injuries are typically the most severe when the animal hits someone with its wing joint, rather than biting or pecking. The majority of birds will fly toward a perceived threat to defend their nests, but most birds aren't 30 pounds, so few people consider the consequences of, say, a crow becoming angry.

  • Don't Mess With A Swan During Nesting Season

    Don't Mess With A Swan During Nesting Season
    Photo: Lorianne DiSabato / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Although swans typically aren't looking for a fight, male swans aggressively defend their nests during breeding season, which runs from April through July. They're pretty fearless about it, too. Not only do swans chase people, but they also rush geese, foxes, and even canoes.

  • Get To Know Mr. Asbo, England's Swan Villain

    Get To Know Mr. Asbo, England's Swan Villain
    Photo: <p&p>photo / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Mr. Asbo began his reign of terror in April 2010 on the River Cam in England, when he began repeatedly attacking rowers. Mr. Asbo's attacks, called "drone style" by the locals, injured multiple people. During a student rowing race, a marshal was hired specifically to protect the students from Mr. Asbo. The swan is aptly named after the acronym for anti-social behavior order, a misdemeanor in the UK for conducting oneself inappropriately.

    After two years of attacking rowers, Mr. Asbo was finally relocated in 2012. A wildlife expert said that Mr. Asbo felt threatened by the rowers in the narrow river and is no longer attacking anyone in his new environment. He also had his wings clipped, just in case.