As the title suggests, I was attacked by a swan today. To add insult to injury, it wasn’t even a rare type of swan, just an ordinary, and innaccurately-named Mute Swan. In attack mode they can be quite vocal, with a range of hisses and low growling sounds. It doesn’t have the same blood-curdling effect of a snarling pitbull, but it is still a little off-putting, and definitely not mute.
Over the years I’ve often read that a single blow from the wing of an enraged swan can break a man’s thigh, but I’m doubtful. A quick search of the internet seems to support me. However, none of the people discussing the damage a swan can do seems to know much about catching turkeys.
Each year we eat about 1.3 million turkeys in the UK. That means that 1,300,000 turkeys have to be caught, loaded onto lorries and moved to a processing plant. Although they now have mechanical help, in my day they were all caught by hand. Many of the experienced catchers wore cricket boxes to preserve themselves from injury. Think of frantically flapping wings meeting delicate parts of the anatomy, and things will become clear.
A swan is pretty much the same size as a big turkey. If I say that my leg wasn’t the first thing that I was worried about,Ii trust you will apprecuate my problem.
It started by getting aggressive with Julia, who was putting food down to attract photographic subjects. I diverted it at that point by standing between the two of them and throwing some food about. That worked until it got bored and started trying to eat my trousers.
Swans are about 28 pounds and tall enough to come just past my waist. In truth it shouldn’t be a problem. I should be able to best it in single combat, but beating up a swan in a nature reserve doesn’t seem right. Swans in open water are owned by the Queen – I’m not sure what the exact legal position is, and whether self-defence is seen as a good excuse. Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 the maximum punishment is £5,000 or 6 months in jail. If, on the other hand, it counts as treason due to royal ownership, I might end up in the Tower of London.
Mute Swan at Rufford Park
Fortunately it didn’t come to that. After a bit of trouser tugging and hissing from the swan and some grumbling from me, I used a handful of food to cover a strategic withdrawal.
It should have ended at that point, but a one-legged Greylag goose hopped up to the food and the swan grabbed it round the neck.
It was a dilemma – help the underdog or let the swan get away with it?
The goose was about half the size of the swan, has a leg that is permanantly tucked up to its body and has a damaged wing. It clearly needed help. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be incarcerated in the Tower of London.
I offered my trousers again, but got no reaction.
Mute Swan attacking Greylag goose
In the end, after a certain amount of shouting and posturing, we distracted the swan and fed it again as the goose scurried away.
It seems a bit unfair that the swan gets extra food for bad behaviour, but that’s how it goes.