Swan Bathing Upside Down

Often times when photographing birds one never knows what is going to happen. Recently while visiting La Salle Park in Burlington Ontario I observed something I had not witnessed before – swan bathing upside down.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 261mm, efov 704mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-220

We’ve all seen birds bathing before. They typically fluff up their feathers while in the water and beat their wings furiously sending water splashing up over themselves. This is often followed by vigorous wing flapping. I had observed swans exhibiting this same type of behaviour in the past.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 241mm, efov 649mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-200

What I had never seen before was a swan rolling over onto its back, sticking its head and neck completely under the water, then rotating its legs up in the air as if riding an invisible bicycle.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 241mm, efov 649mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-250

It was somewhat comical watching their large, webbed fleet paddling up in the air. After a few seconds the various birds would roll over in the water.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 241mm, efov 649mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-160

They would continue with their bathing ritual by smacking the surface of the water with their wings, then rising up out of the water by beating their wings rapidly.

This is likely quite common swan bathing behaviour, but something I had not witnessed in the past. It was unusually warm for a Canadian February afternoon with the temperature at a record-setting level of about 16 Celsius which may help to explain their behaviour.

Regardless of the cause, I was thrilled to have been treated to this visual display.

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9 thoughts on “Swan Bathing Upside Down”

    1. Hi Tord,

      I did not observe any of the physical symptoms in the reference material you posted with the birds I observed at La Salle Park. All of the birds appeared robust and healthy that were exhibiting this behaviour. They did not appear to roll over from any kind of lack of balance. The rolling over was only for about 2 seconds at a time, after which the birds would right themselves and then exhibit typical bathing behaviour with vigorous flapping of their wings and beating the surface of the water. Then they would flap vigorously raising their bodies partially out of the water. Since it was a very unusually warm day for February I interpreted their behaviour to be an attempt to rid themselves of parasites in their back feathers.

      I have been back to La Salle Park a number of times and spoken to many other photographers as well as volunteers and no one has ever mentioned any kind of lead poisoning or any of the birds being sick. Almost all of the adult birds are tagged and numbered so it would be very easy to track this type of issue.

      I will certainly ask one of the volunteers the next time that I see one at La Salle Park. Obviously there was no attempt on my part to poke fun at birds that may be sick. I will investigate this further. Thank you for the information.

      Tom

  1. We’ve seen mute swans do this, and later learned that the one we saw died of lead poisoning (his entire family, and a family of Canadian geese, suffered the same fate), as the ingested lead affects their whole being, not least the sense of balance.

    It can be cured, in humans, by hospital care, over a long period, thus not available to wild birds.

    Very common reason for deaths among ducks, and swans. These poor birds had accidentally eaten lead-enriched charcoal, a result of hobos stealing cables and then at night they burn off the plastic on the cables, a process that melts the inner lead sheeting on the cables as well, and the lead soaks into the ground, and into the wood charcoal used to heat-up the cables, and birds with an upset tummy naturally like to eat charcoal, and that way ingest the lead, which makes them more ill, leading them eating more poisonous charcoal.

    So having fun at sick birds is not my cup of tea.

  2. Those made me smile! That must have been surprising. I don’t remember ever seeing a bird bathe upside down before. I have seen some ducks flip over while trying to reach down and grab some water weeds growing near the bottom of pond.

    1. Hi Joni,
      It made me smile too! I ended up watching a number of different swans doing this same behaviour for well over an hour. I had never seen anything like it before.
      Tom

  3. Great shots. Our only white swans here in Australia are located at Northam Western Australia . My mate and I had the good fortune to photograph six of the eight birds that remain. Eighty birds were imported from England about 1895. Only these eight remain.

    1. Hi Tom,
      Thanks for sharing your experience with the white swans of Australia. I went online and discovered that one of the only places they reside is on the banks of the Avon River.
      Tom

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