At a park near where I live there’s a large pond which is inhabited by many swans. The swan population varies depending on the time of year, but at the moment there’s somewhere between 40-80 there, including some juvenile (grey) swans. If you’ve never sat and watched a community of swans, I’d highly recommend taking some time to do it.
One thing that I find particularly interesting is when somebody comes to feed the swans. Generally, the swans will be unevenly distributed across the pond, and some will be on the land. There’s plenty of weed in the pond for them to eat, and on the land there’s plenty of grass. So each swan has to make a decision: go for the easy food, or not.
I’ve no idea the extent to which swans actually have decision making abilities (I’d suspect they have very little in the way of logical cognition) but it’s noticeable that those that are in easy swimming distance will float up to the person with the food, others won’t.
Watching the feeding frenzy is fascinating. The swans crowd in, and each swan (presumably) wants as much food as possible. Observe this for long enough, and in my experience you’ll see that different swans appear to act differently:
- Early opportunists: Some swans act quickly and try to get as close to the food, attract the attention of the person feeding them (a gentle peck on the leg has even been known).
- Collaborators: You sometimes see a fluffed up ‘alpha’ swan patrol the perimeter, chasing others away other birds (presumably ensuring that its juvenile swans/cygnets get sufficient food).
- Status junkies: Bizarrely, some tussle to the front and pick fights and peck the necks of others, chasing them far away in the process. In doing so, they miss out on the opportunity of food altogether as by the time they get back they are at the back of the tussle. It’s literally lose/lose: I can only assume that they get some kind of ‘swan status’ from doing this.