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Hi Regal Swan expert.
I have been watching a mute swan pair for several years. They live on good-sized by in Toronto on the north shore of Lake Ontario. This spring, the pair successfully hatched seven cygnets. Incredibly, four months have passed since they hatched, and all seven are still alive and well and staying with their parents. Their father has been a very strong defender of his mate, his babies and his territory. But all of a sudden, in the last week, our cob has been letting his mate do all the territory defence as a rival pair of mute swans has tried to take our swan family’s territory.
When the rival pair came calling today, our male retreated to the marina in his territory and hid between the boats, out of sight, and let the female handle the challengers. There were some dramatic aggressions, busking, flying at the intruders, etc., but luckily the female didn’t engage in a physical fight where the warring factions try to drown one another. Meanwhile, our pair’s seven cygnets are watching all this play out. Is it possible that our cob is sick? Perhaps he already fought with the intruders and lost the battle, and is now letting our pen handle the aggressors? Or maybe he has already been in a physical fight with the challengers and is injured from that.
We notice the pen constantly looking at her cob while he retreats and/or hides. And there are plenty of signals and vocalizations. But we don’t know if she is saying, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this!” Or is she saying, “Don’t leave me to do this by myself!”
Any insight you could give me about this would be most appreciated. Do you have any literature citation that you could share that addresses the topic of possible reasons why male mutes refuse to defend their turf.
Thank you for your most helpful site.
Yours, M.L. Bream, TorontoSwan ExpertKeymaster
We have not seen anything in literature regarding this issue, but that doesn’t mean that it does not exist. We just have not seen it. Yes, there are several reasons for this behavior:
The male has already been in a scuffle, lost the battle and is extremely frightened and avoiding another fight. He could been injured and trying to recover before engaging in a future battle. There is also one other reason that could be in play. During the summer months, usually in July, but could be later, swans moult. This means old feathers drop out and new feathers are grown. At the time of moult, the birds cannot fly. Each parent will moult at a different time so that at least one parent can fight and fly to escape if necessary. This might be the behavior you are seeing. Once the male’s feathers are ready for flight, you may see him engaging with the other male. On another note, most male swans (and most animals) may significantly injure or even possibly kill another male, but they usually do not try to injure a female. Although this can happen, it may be by accident as the male is larger. Remember the old adage, “a man should not hit a woman”, even applies in the wild because a female is more valuable to increase the flock/herd as she can mate with another member if something happens to her mate and she can be taken as a mate by a stronger rival member.
Male swans can also severely injure smaller cygnets that get in the way if a scuffle occurs or they enter someone else’s territory. This why one parent must always be able to fight and protect their young. We hope this information is of benefit. The Regal SwanM.L. BreamGuest
Thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. Very helpful and much appreciated.