KelsaeJohn's picture

Display 'dance' of two competing male swans

Observed: 12th April 2012 By: KelsaeJohnKelsaeJohn’s reputation in BirdsKelsaeJohn’s reputation in BirdsKelsaeJohn’s reputation in BirdsKelsaeJohn’s reputation in Birds
Display 'dance' of two competing male swans
Three Swans in aggresive dance

This was an extraordinary display by two males (subsequently joined by the female of the resident pair) which I have never seen before. The two birds circled each other for a good ten minutes in this 'aggressive' posture although there was no violence or contact between them.
N.B. The nest of the resident pair can be seen in picture 3 - at the edge of the river, in the reeds just behind the birds. (What I don't understand is why the resident male did not chase the other bird off his patch - as he usually does.
P.S. The female of the intruder was also present but did not get involved.

Species interactions

No interactions present.

Species with which Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) interacts


Simon Walker's picture

Competing Males

It's possible that they were pretty evenly matched, and uncertain about their status in the pecking order. Normally one sees the other off quite quickly, as you say. Interesting.

KelsaeJohn's picture

Competing Swans

Thanks for your comments Simon, I suppose what you say about being evenly matched is a possibility - but! it doesn't square with my experience of this particular situation. Perhaps I can add some further info which might throw some light on the matter. To begin with, I should say that I am very familiar with these birds - this stretch of the river is just a minutes walk from my door and I have been observing the bird life on it for several years.
The resident pair nest here every year. Their territory extends from a Mill Weir (or Cauld as they are know as in these parts) which is just, maybe, 150 metres downriver from this years nest site. It extends upriver for about a half mile or thereabouts to what is known, in the angling fraternity, as the Lower Floors beat. This is the territory of the other pair. Now, 'The Cobby' - the territory of our 'local' pair is a popular stretch of the river with locals and visitors who come down to walk their dogs, picnic etc. - but, most importantly, a great many people bring bread to feed the ducks, swans etc. Clearly, the Lower Floors pair know about this abundance of food and make regular incursions to take advantage of it. This is a behaviour that has been going on for years. Now, normally, when they are spotted by the resident male, he loses no time in 'charging' towards the invading male in full threat posture (in fact I have previously posted photo's of this very behaviour) and have seen it often. The outcome is never in question - the resident pursues the intruding male (ignoring the female - who follows at a safe distance) to the boundary between The Cobby and the Lower Floors beat. Once this has been accomplished, he returns 'home' passing the other female on the way without incident. It is in that context that I still feel unsure about your theory of an evenly matched pair.
By the way, I had time to take some video footage of the 'Dance routine and it would be great if I could share that. I'd love to know if anyone else has seen anything similar. Problem is, I don't know how to share a video! (Maybe I have to put it on You Tube or something)

Simon Walker's picture


Well, you're right it's not so likely to be evenly matched males; another theory gone down in flames!
I really don't know then. I have noticed that some swans seem more aggressive at one time than another, but I don't know why.
Let me know if you find out...

KelsaeJohn's picture

Swans territorial disputes

Simon, Your theory still stands! I have just come back from The Cobby and, whilst there, I witnessed another confrontation. The neighbouring pair were back again. I arrived just in time to see the resident cob adopt the 'threat' posture (wings raised, neck and head lowered back against the body)(I'm sure there is a more accepted word for this but I can't think of it). This time, however, his 'attack' was decidedly half-hearted! His approach was hesitant, to say the least. The other cob moved to meet the approach and they then proceeded to do 'the circling dance' again but this seemed, to me at least, more ritualistic than meaningful. It only lasted a couple of minutes; they broke off and proceeded to ignore each other - without the other pair moving off. The resident female then returned to her nest. I left then with all four birds still in the vicinity.
Fascinating stuff! I must keep a close eye on future developments!