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S&M Swans
THURSDAY, APRIL 24, 2008

In addition to birding Prospect Park lately I've also made a couple of trips to Jamaica Bay. Being near this and the other Gateway parks that run along the coast of Brooklyn and Queens is one of the great advantages of birding around NYC. The refuge is near JFK airport, and if you've seen the marshlands as you come in or fly out from there, part of that is Jamaica Bay. Some expected birds have arrived there, including Glossy Ibis, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons, and Forsters Terns. But the most interesting moment I had was watching the more familiar Mute Swans, an introduced species that is not always beloved by birders because of their aggression. Apparently, they save their worst aggression for each other. I was scoping the East Pond when I heard a commotion on the lake and looked up to see a pair of swans trying to kill each other. Or at least that's what it looked like. This series of photos gives a sense of the violence of the interaction...
I was pretty sure one of these birds was going to wind up injured or dead. The fight went on for at least five minutes. Finally, one swan got around the other and appeared to mount it:


The breeding (if that was what it was...I am only assuming here) was more akin to a prison rape than anything else, and what I'm deducing was the female looked miserable and nearly drowned. As I'm sure Leda could tell you, getting ravished by a swan isn't all it's cracked up to be. Finally, the (presumed) female pulled away and escaped, probably to recover and renounce males for good.
I've since looked up some videos online where the copulation was not nearly this aggressive, so again this may have been a dominance display rather than a mating pair. If anyone has any more information on this behavior, please email me.