When Swans Attack!

A million miles away from the heart pumping, splendidness of Swan Lake written by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky C. 1875/76 the swans of the Exeter Canal are forming thug gangs strung out on rap music and high on crack (probably) to attack innocent paddle boarding folk.

There's been a steady stream of reports coming in that one particular swan, we'll name Gary, has been singling out paddle boarders in unprovoked attacks upon their person. Initially these attacks were all about the feathers. Gary would fluff them up and hiss accordingly to put the fear into the paddlers but in recent days these innocent "fluffings" have become more sinister and the beak has been introduced!

Fortunately Gary's feet remain quite useless for carrying a flick knife but a swan's beak can bust you up pretty damned good!

Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.So what's it all about?

Well it's breeding season and Gary has pulled himself a stunner who he's knocked up and now he's strutting about as if he owns the place so any SUP in the area is now "fair game" for a fluffing, a hissing and a bloody good peck!

The demonically possessed bird is a fair old beast and carries an array of weapons. Firstly there's the fluffing - the act of puffing up all those innocent white feathers designed to confuse and make himself look bigger. It is similar to why teenagers wear big puffer jackets because underneath there's just skin and bone. That's where the similarity ends - Gary has a lot more going for him than your average chav!

If the fluffing doesn't divert your paddling it's time to bring out the hissing. At this point the combination of hissing and puffing drives off most but the most foolhardy of paddle boarders.

Gangster swans of Exeter CanalYou're still in my water?

For those whom haven't been deterred by the "bird" because they honestly think they'll come off better than a "bird" Gary will switch to the beak. In canal warfare the black of a swan is a worthy weapon and one best avoided. They've been reported to break arms

Actually, no, they cannot break an arm simply because as a bird they are built for weight and a heavy bird cannot fly so happily the "breaking an arm" is a myth.

"That said, swans can be dangerous if you’re out on the river: the males in particular can be aggressive when defending their nests, and that can be scary. Swans are one of the heaviest flying birds in the UK, a fact that becomes clear when one is hurtling towards your rowing boat at top speed in the middle of mating season.".

Don't be fooled!

Gary the swan is an intimidating piece of kit and when riled will fly toward you and that dear readers spells trouble as an unfortunate American kayaker found out when one knocked him over and he sadly drowned! Read that story here (opens a new window).

Swans busking but not for cash?

The aggressive display made by a swan when it feels threatened is known as ‘busking’ but don’t be fooled by the pleasant term - this is no warbling swan song, but a cacophony of hissing and other intimidating sounds.

Well known rap group Goldie Looking Chain stated "Guns don't kill people, swans do" in 2004. At least it was something like that I think but they got the facts wrong because it's not the intention of Gary swan to bust a cap in yo ass but rather to clearly tell you - he's in charge of the canal!

So what lessons have we learnt? Firstly: avoid the swans! Swans nest alongside the banks of the canal and you might not see them until you're close at which point you'll have Gary to deal with!


It is tempting to SUP close to the banks of the canal and that will bring you into contact with our feathered friends and they will do what comes naturally so please do try avoid paddling close to the edges during the nesting seasons and if you see a nest then steer well clear. You may get a good old peck but at worse you may cause the nest to be abandoned and we don't want that. Most of the time our feathered escorts follow us around and add a certain charm to the paddle so paddle wisely and Gary will live in harmony with us. 

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