The Royal Swans: Friendly water fowl or foe?

By Meredith Newberry

The Royal Swans are back. Like a theme park ride through the Magic Kingdom, these swans both delight and terrify residents. Terrify, you say? Terrify, I say.

Every summer residents and tourists alike, watch the swans from the riverside and remark on their beauty, size and speed. Eight swans returned to the river this year to live in the wild (mostly between Carleton and Cummings Bridge) until late Fall. Every year since I’ve lived in Old Ottawa East I’ve been thrilled to see them swim peacefully and forage serenely up and down the river. But last year my impressions of these magical creatures took a swan-dive. Not sorry. Pun intended.

Apparently, swans are not afraid to let people know where their boundaries should be. My husband started paddle boarding on the river last year. The swans took that as the start to a watery game of chicken. Each morning as he paddled down the river, a distance from the shore, a swan would greet him, raise his middle feather and give chase. Nothing like speeding waterfowl to give energy to his workout!

Not long after that my dog, Jack, was chased by a swan while swimming in the river at the edge of Springhurst Park. I didn’t think anything foul of them being in the water together until the swan made a bee-line to Jack. As soon as Jack heard the hiss of that massive swan he came running back to me rather than face a duel. One of swan’s main predators are unleashed dogs so I can understand their instinct. But more importantly, now we know who is King of the Rideau.

The swans enjoy their special presence on the river and don’t take kindly to others getting into their space. Yes, their space. The way I see it, it’s got to be their river. I personally have never been invited by the mayor to swim in the river. Nor have I ever been observed and cared for by the City. Nor has anyone built me a winter retreat with outdoor swimming pool. So you see…we’re just visitors in their swimming hole. And to that end, here’s a few things to remember when admiring the swans in their natural habitat:
1. Admire from afar. Don’t get too close and they won’t give chase.
2. If a swan is nearby, leash your dog.
3. The swans build their nests in areas that are not easy to disturb; leave their nests in peace. It’s a federal offence to mess with them, plus it’s not very nice.
4. They don’t need bread. They forage for food in the river but according to the City of Ottawa Swan Program, lettuce, spinach and alfalfa sprouts are snacks better suited for this royalty.

So I’ve learned my lesson. I still love seeing the swans. But I won’t be looking to get a Swan Selfie.

Meredith Newberry lives near the Ottawa River with her family. They are active both in and around the River. She wrote this personal essay as a way to mark the Royal Swan’s 2017 return to the Rideau River and share a few swan survival tips.

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Filed in: Environment, Front Page

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