The Great Outdoors


MUTE SWAN“There’s a swan in the run, Dad,” my daughter told me one morning as we were getting the horses in the barn. Our run is a lane for the horses, fenced, approximately twenty feet wide and leads from the end of our barn to a pasture, a second pasture. On one side of the run is the pasture behind our barn, on the other side is a cattail marsh.

The marsh on the side of the run has been home to a pair of mute swans. They are there summer and winter, except when the water freezes over. They drive Canada geese and other avian intruders way and nest there every summer. They have raised one or two cygnets, occasionally three, every year since they moved in.

The mute swan was introduced to North America, like the house sparrow and starling. It’s a native bird of Europe and Asia. Adults are big, white birds with long necks. They’re striking birds, beautiful birds and were brought to America initially to add their beauty to the estates of wealthy landowners of the Northeast. They were living land ornaments, free but provided with food and only semi-wild.

Later mute swans were released in Michigan. There they had to survive on their own. And they did, multiplying and spreading until they are not uncommon in an area of the Midwest including northern Indiana.

Swans are big birds and the mute swan is the biggest, bigger than either tundra or trumpeter, the two native North American swans. An adult male is nearly four feet long from tip of bill to end of tail and has a wing span of seven to eight feet.

Swans are big and they are heavy, so heavy that they have to get up speed before they can take off, rise into the air. To get up speed they flap their wings, rise up on the water, then use their large webbed feet and run on the surface of the water until they have enough speed to lift off and fly.

The swan in our run, however, was on land. It was close to the water of the marsh. It must have landed there because it was beside the water, but because of the fence it couldn’t get to the water. Nor could it run fast enough on land to get up enough speed to take off. It was trapped.

This was not the first time a swan had landed and been trapped in our run. When we had the horses in their stalls and had given them their morning supplemental feed we walked down the run to rescue the swan.

It didn’t want us to rescue it, didn’t want us to come close. Standing up as tall as it could, it faced whichever of us was closest, partially spread its wings, stretched its neck up and out and opened its bill threateningly, all the time hissing loudly. It was not mute and it was as angry, I think, as a bird can be.

Laura got on one side of it, I got on the opposite side and slowly we moved in, Laura staying a little closer than I was so the swan faced her. When I was close enough I jumped in and grabbed the bird, one hand on each wing up near the shoulder, up where there were no flight feathers, getting hold of each wing by the bone. Though I held it, Laura was the threat in front of it and the bird continued to stretch its neck out and hiss at her.

As when I’d caught other swans in the run, I lifted this one to the top of the fence, gave it a little toss and it plunged into the cattails. It flopped through the cattails, making little barking noises which were answered by another swan already on the water.

Neil A. Case

Neil A. Case

I have always liked the outdoors and birds and am a conservationist and an environmentalist. I don't write specifically about conservation but mix my opinion in with stories about a bird, a mammal, a plant or other outdoor subject. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer