Love Knows No Bounds for This Interspecies Pair
In a culture too-often divided, birding offers a heartwarming refuge…meet the Mute Swan and Embden Goose who choose improbable companionship.
Down in New Orleans
Each year, I return to the languid pace, rich culture, and deep roots that make New Orleans a magical city. A place with something for everyone, it’s a veritable wonderland for birding, with rich wetlands in a migratory corridor that turns every spring into an adventure.
On this particular day – February 2, 2020 – I wasn’t seeking adventure so much as soaking in the sunshine with my partner on a gorgeous winter day. We wandered past a swan and goose who were napping in the shade together, and settled ourselves on a bench near the pond.
As we lounged, spotted feathered friends, logged sightings in eBird, snapped pictures, and wiled away a perfectly good afternoon, the swan and goose woke from their nap, moved into the pond, nibbled on some lunch, and stayed in notable proximity to each other.
May I Have This Dance?
Wildlife photography is 40% skill and 99% luck…and apparently it was my lucky day.
As I had my camera up, shooting a flock of white ibis who were working the crowd for bread like Carnival-masqued ducks, I watched breathlessly as an amazing encounter unfolded before my eyes.
The swan and goose, who were contentedly skimming the water for tasty morsels began to circle each other.
Initially, it was the swan’s posture that caught my eye – so iconic, with his wings arched upward, and neck in a graceful s-shaped curve with feathers all fluffed up.
He seemed to be gazing at the goose with such intensity, it was hard to not feel a connection.
Their circle began to slowly speed up, with the goose burying her face in his exposed flank, as he continued to gaze down at her.
The two of them went round and round, with heads inclined toward one another, often touching bills to necks or body.
Was I watching a courtship display?
It sure looked like he was admiring her…tail feathers!
Reading the Signs
So I did what all curious naturalists do: I processed my photos and poured over the body language I had observed. I Googled for examples of swans and geese courting and came up with nothing.
I did find a wonderful page full of swan body language photos posted by SwanLovers.net owners and rehabbers Linda & Rob – it was by far the best collection of photos to identify friendly vs aggressive behavior in swans.
I felt pretty safe in assuming that I was seeing non-aggressive, happy behavior, perhaps indicative of companionship and play. But I still wanted to know – was it more?
Finally, I posted a gallery of pictures and reached out to a few ornithologists and experts to see if they could confirm my instincts.
I was thrilled out of my mind to have three confirmations that their body language – proximity, posture, and interactions – looked like a courtship display…the mating ballet that inspires mankind to romantic notions and artistic musings.
Is This a Thing?
Well, as it turns out – yes!
In rare circumstances, usually when mating options are limited and both parties are feeling the groove (*ahem* that is, become hormonally active in proximity to each other), swans and geese have been known to hybridize. Accounts of this date back as early as 1920, and the offspring are known as “swoose” (a word I’m now *dying* to use in casual conversation!).
There are a few stories online about sweese (how can the plural get even cuter?)
One article from gobirding.eu chronicles the sightings of one swoose on the River Frome in Dorset from 2004-2011
There is a cool blog about bird hybrids that offers some examples of swoose
I wasn’t able to find any photos of courtship online, but it was a tricky keyword search. I’m so curious if others have seen this romantic, beautiful connection as well.
Is This a Love Story?
I lament that all I get is a snapshot in time, and that I won’t have the chance to personally see how this tale of improbable love turns out.
It makes me smile to think that some octogenarian birding couple probably takes that walk every day, has followed the progress of this connection and will sit on a bench, holding hands and talking about this dapper Mute Swan and his lovely Embden Goose, as they watch each new chapter unfold.
But for my small part of this story, I say that napping near my beloved, awakening to stroll through the park, grab a bite to eat and spontaneously dance together in expression of our admiration is a pretty great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Isn’t that what love is all about?
Do You Have a Swoose or Swan/Goose Love Story?
Please share in the comments! I’d love to know if others have seen or photographed this special bond, or the progeny of a successful pairing.