Earlier this year, a wildlife rescue center took in a mute swan (Cygnus olor).
Mute swans aren't native birds. In North American we have tundra swans, whooper swans, and trumpeter swans. Some people buy mute swans, the lovely birds of classic European imagery, and place them on ornamental water to make it even more ornamental. Sometimes the swans go wild, move to wilder waters, raise families there. Because they're not native, they don't have the same legal protections, and because they're not native, some people disapprove of them. (It's said that they're hard on aquatic vegetation and ecosystems.)
But this swan wasn't feral. He dwelled on ornamental water where he had been placed, only now he was very sick and looked like he might stop dwelling at any moment. He was too weak to stand, a pancaked fowl.
Since he was a private bird, he might have gone to a private veterinarian, but vets who see swans are rare, and the wildlife center has waterfowl experience. The swan was lucky.
Once I found a sick bird on a beach. We were in an unfamiliar town, but I eventually got a number for a wildlife rescue center. “I found a bird...” I began, but a bored voice interrupted. “We only take native species,” it said. “You
probably have a starling. We don't take them.”
“Actually I think it's a marbled godwit.”
“Oh!” the nativist cried in sudden interest. “Bring it right in!”
But most wildlife centers take some non-native species. They may not be delighted, but they won't turn you and your bedraggled find away from their door.
The swan had been admitted, and treated, and was feeling a lot better. He could stand now. His benefactors had gone on the buddy system – they didn't go alone into his pen.
Swans are big. And grumpy. Not only do they hiss and bite, but with their wings they can hit very hard, so hard that it is said they can break human bones. People are charmed by the fact that swans are devoted spouses and parents, but one way swans express that is by beating up anyone who comes too close to their family.
Three of the most common reactions to seeing a swan can be summarized as:
“Oh look, how beautiful!”
“Those things can break your arm.”
“What is that, a pelican?”
I like to summarize three swan reactions as:
“Yes, you may admire my beauty from a great distance.”
“Not as long as you stay a great distance away.”
“A pelican? I'm gonna come over there and break your arm.”
No one wanted to mix it up with rescue swan now that he had his strength back. Perhaps he was ready to be returned to his ornamental water. But there was a problem. He had lost weight and he wasn't gaining it back. Despite his recovery, he wasn't eating well.
They discussed his case at morning rounds. What was going on with him? Someone asked if he had a mate. Yes, a mate and cygnets too. Ah. He was lonesome for his family. Treatment plan: reunion.
(This shows a good understanding of different species. You wouldn't ask this question about a male peacock or a male hummingbird, because they aren't family men.)
The swan missed his family. To me it also seems possible that he worried about them. I doubt a swan envisions particular scenarios – monstrous humans kidnapping his wife, falcons grabbing his children – but possibly this swan envisioned his family alone, without him on guard, and he wanted to be back defending them. Taking names and breaking arms.