Travel safety: are swans dangerous?

Mr. Asbo is not a nice swan.

He’s attacked numerous boaters on the River Cam at Cambridge, England, hissing and pecking at anyone who comes close. Back in 2009, he even attacked the Cambridge Rowing Team during their historic May Bumps race. The race had to appoint a special marshal to keep an eye on the naughty bird.

Swans are very territorial, especially when they have a nest full of cygnets (babies). Mr. Asbo and his lady friend have several cygnets a year and their nest is right on the main boating area of the river. This has led to numerous confrontations where Mr. Asbo hisses, snaps at oars, and tries to bat people with his wings. It’s even reported that he’s strong enough to capsize small boats.

His name refers to the Anti-Social Behavior Order, a punishment usually meted out to lager-soaked louts to ban them from playing loud music, being drunk in public, aggressively panhandling, or even stealing eggs. Now local residents have had enough and there are plans to move Mr. Asbo and his family to a rural area 50 miles away, where hopefully he won’t bother anyone.

Swans are one of the many attractions of the English countryside, especially at the popular riverside destinations of Cambridge and Oxford. They are strong, fast, wild animals and should be treated with caution. The Swan Sanctuary says they’re generally not a danger, but their peck can be painful and they can even break your arm or leg if they hit you with their wing.

Attacks are rare, however. Swans only get aggressive if you get near their young, enter their territory, or deliberately antagonize them, like the idiot in this video. Don’t be the idiot in this video.

Them’s fightin’ birds – swans vs. ducks in Amsterdam

There’s a gang war in Amsterdam’s Red Light District, and it’s for the birds. Seriously. The swans and ducks are out to get each other.

I first noticed the commotion because of the ducks. They were so loud, and unlike the placid ducks I know from my home lakes in Minneapolis, they were fluttering and flapping around like mad. I honestly wondered if some of the Red Light District’s more refined substances had accidentally gotten into the canal.


But still. Then, I saw the swans. The swans and ducks were have full-on standoffs. In particular, the swans were tensing themselves up (into a totally beautiful, but definitely aggressive, shape like the one shown) and swimming into duck territory to cause trouble. Or maybe the ducks started it. I don’t know. I’m no ornithologist.

I did, however take three videos of the insanity. I’ll skip the first one, before I walked north through duck territory and encountered the swans. Here’s #2:

Forgive the spinning; I was trying to figure out what in the devil was going on with all these freaking out birds.
Then, these two angry-looking swans charged into duck territory. I started to wonder if somewhere a swan was being held hostage. It’s like something out of a cartoon directed by Quentin Tarantino.

Reservoir Ducks, anyone? Did you see that duck just jump the leading swan in the lower right corner (0:07 seconds)?? From what I understand, these is the usual situation in the Red Light District’s canal. Them’s fightin’ birds.

Videos taken by Annie Scott on location in Amsterdam, Sunday, November 8, 2009.

This trip was paid for by the Netherlands Board of Tourism, but the ideas and opinions expressed in the article above are 100% my own.