A Study of the Behavior of Swans

This topic submitted by Jocie Ellis, Ryan Pearl, Ryan Nootz (ellisje@miamioh.edu) at 12:51 am on 12/11/01. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Myers


Jocie Ellis
Ryan Pearl
Ryan Nootz
12/11/01

A STUDY ON THE BEHAVIOR OF SWANS

Introduction:
Our group decided to study and observe the actions and reactions of the trumpeter swans residing at the Western pond, conveniently located on our very own Western campus. The trumpeter swan is the largest swan species and the largest waterfowl species in the world. Widely known and respected for its grace and beauty, we, too, were in awe of the magnificent pair of swans that live so close to us throughout the year. Trumpeter swans mate for life, (which explains why the two near us float so amicably along the water) and generally live between twenty and thirty years. They eat tubers and aquatic vegetation, weigh between twenty and thirty pounds, and have large wingspans of seven or eight feet. At the present time, the trumpeter swan is an endangered species in the state of Ohio and is protected from hunting. Because of massive amounts of hunting in the early 1900’s, the population of the trumpeter swan decreased to 69 members in 1932. The incredibly low number of members created an inability to migrate because of the lack of adults to teach their young this learned behavior. Though swans seem to migrate now, we wondered at great length whether the swans in Oxford lack the ability to migrate or fly, and we also harbored suspicions that their wings are clipped since we’ve never seen them in flying motion. Swans were absent from most Ohio wetland areas, until they began to be slowly reintroduced by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and other organizations.
The basic purpose we wanted to achieve through our “Study of the Behavior of Swans” lab was to learn more about the behavior of the swans in the context of their environment and in relation to acoustics. This was accomplished through a series of four groups of sound, where each group provided unique data concerning the aggressive tendencies and reactions of swans. Through the introduction of specific acoustics, extensive observations and the collection of data, we recorded the behavior we saw in the hopes that this information will help others gain a better understanding of the swans and of the importance of studying animal behavior. With the assistance of our tests, we want other students and peers to discover why the swans should be respected and appreciated as valuable members of an aquatic wetland ecosystem. Not only do these excellent specimens bring a sense of peace to passers-by, and add exotic beauty to the campus; they also serve a specific purpose in their niche in the environment around them.
In our initial brainstorming sessions, there was a large variety of factors to observe and experiment with, but some of them, such as discovering the sexes of the individual swans, needed to be discarded because we did not want to harm or negatively interfere with the birds in their natural habitat. We contacted Don Reed, of the Grounds Crew of Miami University, who told us that the swans are a pair, consisting of a male and a female. The pair was donated to Miami University, and their wings are clipped, preventing them from flying. The Grounds Crew of Miami University monitors the health and safety of the swans, as well as providing them with crack corn for nourishment, particularly in the winter season.
Purpose and Hypothesis:
We charted how the swans react to different audio response stimuli, including human, competitor, predator, and native bird noises. Each noise was introduced to the pair of Trumpeter swans from a hidden area, so that the swans could not see the source of the noise. The distance between the noise and the swans was held at a constant of 15 feet, and the volume of the sound (maximum) was played on one stereo, remaining at a constant throughout our experiments to keep the observations as accurate as possible. We created hypotheses for the swan’s reactions to each noise. In response to the sounds of humans, we thought that the swans would be curious. We also felt, however, that because people visit Western pond often, the swans would be adjusted and acclimated to human interference and would return to their normal activities shortly after the sound was introduced. In response to competitor and predator sounds, we thought there would be a higher level of aggressive behavior and the swans would exhibit signs of curiosity and alertness. When native bird calls were played near the swans, we expected the swans to ignore the noise because the calls were native to Western pond, and therefore, the swans would be used to hearing them throughout their daily life.
Relevance of Research Question:
Whereas other student-generated labs were broader in scope, and covered information that has been researched for long periods of time, it is hard to find experiments that involve studying only swan behavior. From our research, we know basic information on the two swans from data accumulated from other Natural Systems groups throughout the last few years. We also discovered websites during our extensive Internet research, which offered valuable information on swans, their lifestyles, and the environment in which they live. One group, from the website http://jrscience.wcp.miamioh.edu/nsfall98/finalarticles.html, titled their lab “A study in the Behavior of Swans.” They performed only color testing, observing whether or not the swans would react to different colored balls floating along the surface of the water they glided across. The group developed high suspicions after testing that one of the swans was either blind or had terrible eyesight. This group had great sources to complete their lab and help them broaden their knowledge base, which has prompted us to look for books as well as Internet sites in our research material. Another group titled their project “A Study of Life on Western Pond” and we found them through the Internet site http://jrscience.wcp.miamioh.edu/nsfall99/FinalArticles/ASTUDYOFLIFEONWESTERNPOND.htm This group based all of their testing on three variables, which were how the swans would react to people standing, walking and feeding. This is more closely matched to our own objectives, but they decided to include all of the life forms that inhabit the western pond, so they spent much less time with the swans than we will. Other websites gave us excellent information on swans, such as www.clemetzoo.com/swans.html. This site gave us general information about the trumpeter swan. The Cleveland Metropark Zoo is involved in reintroducing many swans into the environment. The site has basic information about swans as well as more detailed information about their behavior, history and their habitat. The behavior and habitat information was the most helpful to our project because it gave us ideas of how they tend to act and how they behave as well as the kinds of animal sounds that we used as stimuli based on what lives in their natural habitat.
Another site connected to the zoo is http://www.clemetzoo.com/animals/animal_info/swan_trumpeter.html, which contains all of its information on one page, and is very concise and straightforward. It will be a good basis for our study, acting as a superior reference guide about the swans. The site www.taiga.net/swans/swanid.html explains the differences between the Mute, Tundra and Trumpeter swan, and gives specific measurements of each animal, including weight, wingspans and egg length in all three species. Also discussed were the head and neck movements, posture, and proportion of neck and body length. The site http://vquest.com/swan/fact.html is a website for an organization that wants to make the public more aware about the lives and habits of swans. It imparts knowledge through interesting swan facts and trivia and discusses management activities and solutions for increasing swan population. The short website found at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu is from the department of zoology at the University of Michigan, and gives fundamental swan information, as well as classifying the trumpeter swan with its scientific name. It also explains geographic ranges, food habits and reproduction that will be of use to our studies and us. The site http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/er/factsheets/birds/swan.htm is extremely extensive and quite detailed. It includes a great deal of information about the trumpeter swan as well as the mute and tundra swans. It contains descriptions of the swan’s physical attributes as well as their behavioral patterns. It also describes how swans breed and how the young are cared for, while covering mating and territorial patterns. Another aspect of this site deals with restoration and redistribution projects and goals and we consider this site critical in our understanding of the swans at western pond. Most importantly, while each of the tests and experiments we looked at in our research were valid and legitimate in their own rights, our project will help ourselves, our peers and others learn specifically about swans and how they react to different sounds in their native environment.
Materials and Methods:
The level of activity that we provoked with the different audio response stimuli was recorded on a data sheet. The cumulative information we gathered will create a statistically sound experimental design. Each audio response stimuli was placed and played on a CD and was kept from view of the swans. We also remained unseen as we recorded their reactions. Concentrating solely on how acoustics affect the swans kept our testing specific, and thus produced concrete data and information. Because there is a plethora of activities one can carry out to test swan behavior, sticking to one idea provided for more legitimate results and created additional information about swan behavior for interested persons to refer to. Our experimental design is sound, and is proven valid through the statistical data that record the swans reactions.
Equipment:
Tape Recorder
Tape Measure
Various Bird Calls
CD player
The following are the four different groups of audio response stimuli that we tested the swans with:
1. Human Sounds: talking, shouting, laughing
2. Competitor Sounds: Trumpeter Swans (competition within species), Canadian Geese, Tundra Swans
3. Regular Bird Sounds: crow calls, sparrow, mallard duck, wood duck
4. Predator Sounds: Great Horned Owl, Red Tailed Hawk
Data Sheet:
The following data sheet was created and used throughout the semester. The data sheet we created consists of four general behaviors taken directly from our hypotheses. We measured aggressiveness, fearfulness, curiosity and indifference on scales from one to five (one being the lowest and five the highest) for each acoustic category. For aggressiveness, we marked a 5 if the swans made any directly hostile motions or movements. We marked a 1 if they looked in the direction of the noise or looked mildly disturbed. For fearfulness, we marked a five if they attempted to fly or move away. Any beating of wings or noise communication between the two swans was taken to mean high alertness. For indifference and curiosity, we marked a 5 if the swans paid any form of attention and a 1 if the swans took no heed of our efforts. To assure continuity, we went by ourselves to perform the experiment, and also went as a group once a week to assure we all equally rated their actions.

Responses to Audio Stimuli (1-5 scale)

Human noises

aggressiveness: 1 2 3 4 5

fearfulness: 1 2 3 4 5

indifference: 1 2 3 4 5

other responses (write in):


Predator noises

aggressiveness: 1 2 3 4 5

fearfulness: 1 2 3 4 5

indifference: 1 2 3 4 5

other responses (write in):


Competitor noises

aggressiveness: 1 2 3 4 5

fearfulness: 1 2 3 4 5

indifference: 1 2 3 4 5

other responses (write in):


Native bird noises

aggressiveness: 1 2 3 4 5

fearfulness: 1 2 3 4 5

indifference: 1 2 3 4 5

other responses (write in):

Timeline:

9/4-9/6: Brainstormed and decided to work with the swans
9/6: Posted research idea
9/11-9/20: Critical reviews and progress reports
9/16: Group meeting to discuss ideas
9/25: Lab proposals due
10/14: Group meeting to discuss lab packets and critical reviews
10/31: Group meeting to survey western pond, first experiment and discussed class activity plans
11/1 Ryan Nootz testing at western pond
11/3: Jocie testing at western pond
11/4: Ryan Pearl testing at western pond
11/6: Presentation to class
11/7: Group testing
11/8: Ryan Nootz testing
11/10: Jocie testing
11/11: Ryan Pearl testing
11/14: Group testing
11/15: Ryan Nootz testing
11/17: Jocie testing
11/18: Ryan Pearl testing
11/28: Group testing
11/29: Ryan Nootz testing
12/01: Jocie testing
12/02: Ryan Pearl testing


In-Class Activity:
For our activity in-class, we gave our fellow students some background information on swans in general, and also told them what specifics we discovered about the two swans on Western Pond. We presented our hypothesis and our findings concerning our research question and led a discussion about the possible effects acoustics may have on swans. We wanted to know what our peer’s thought about the hypotheses we created concerning the different audio response stimuli affecting the swans. Because the swans moods and safety are volatile, we could not lead the large amount of people in the class to Western Pond to test for our own experiments. Too many people would have affected the constants we set so that the swans would not see the source of the acoustic. Instead, we created a slightly different experiment that would go along with our purpose and previous work. The class was to be divided into two groups, one with rap music and one with classical music, to test the swan’s reactions to entertainment different types of music. They were to record the consequent swan behavior. Our hypothesis was that the swans would ignore musical sounds. We thought that, because they were acclimated to the sounds of traffic and human encroachment (visitors of Western pond and construction noises) that they would be unfazed by the sounds from our class activity. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, we were unable to enact our class test. Instead, we led our classmates to western pond so that they could see how we tested our experiment and understand the kind of testing we were doing. We also hoped that the field trip would allow people to gain appreciation for the western pond, and the magnificent birds in it.
Results
After observing and taking data from the swan’s responses, we found that the results were similar to our hypothesis except the responses to the native bird noises. There were slight variations overall, but the results were mostly consistent. We expected the native bird sounds to elicit little or no response from the swans due to them hearing such sounds on a steady basis; however, they in fact did have a very distinct response to those noises. The swans, however, exhibited responses of aggressiveness, fearfulness, indifference and curiosity to each particular sound many times throughout the length of our experiment. We converted our one to five scale to a three category scale of Low, Medium and High, for statistical purposes. Scores of one and two were considered Low, a score of three was Medium, and a four of five was considered High. We plotted the results on a chart using the low, medium, and high scale. The chart set up sounds on the left side of the column and the scale of measurement on the top. Statistics were applied to more clearly analyze our data, in the form of contingency tables. We calculated chi-square tests, compared our observed values to our expected values, and also examined the p-values of each type of reaction.


The swans showed a consistent high amount of aggressive behavior in response to both predator and competitor noises. They showed very low aggressive behavior in response to both human noises and native bird noises.
The p-value of our Chi-Square test shows that the swan’s aggressive responses are significant and are not due to chance alone.


The swan’s showed little to no fearful behavior in response to both human and native bird noises. They showed a much higher amount of fearful behavior in response to predator noises. They showed a medium to low amount of fearful behavior in response to the competitor noises.
The p-value of our Chi-Square test shows that the swan’s fearful responses are significant and are not due to chance alone.


The swan’s showed very low indifferent response to all noises as a whole
The p-value of our Chi-Square test shows that this data is not significant and can be attributed to chance alone. This is likely because the indifferent response was not a very sound source of data. It basically stated if the swans gave any response at all or none.


The swan’s showed a very high amount of curiosity in response to predator and native bird noises. There was a fairly mixed amount of curiosity in response to human sounds, overall being a medium response. The response to competitor noises was very low for the most part.
The p-value of our Chi-Square test shows that the swan’s curious responses are significant and are not due to chance alone.
Discussion & Conclusions
Based on our research and our own observation of the swans, we were able to gain a solid idea of what kinds of behavior they would show in response to the different stimuli we exposed to them. From our research, we found that Trumpeter swans are generally aggressive in response toward other animals that could be threats in their area, as they are very territorial creatures. We were correct in our hypothesis, finding that the stimuli did produce consistent aggressive response from the swans. The swans showed a very fearful response to predator birds as well, becoming very startled when first hearing the noises. We believe they did not show the same fearful response to competitor noises because they felt they could protect their territory from them better than predators. In responses to humans, the swans were fairly curious and showed little to no fearful or aggressive response. We believe this is because they are so accustomed to people being around them. People are often around the pond, feeding and observing the swans. We believe that the biggest reason they were curious of human noises was that they expected food was coming along with this.
The swan’s response to native birds was of great interest to us. We expected in our hypothesis that they would have little to no response to the noises, but were in fact very interested and curious about them. They were not at all aggressive or fearful, simply interested; looking around, intently trying to find out about the noises they were hearing. We believe that this is due to a few causes. 1. Although we chose birds that were native to this region, many of them are likely not part of the Western Pond environment and were therefore unfamiliar to the swans. 2. The noise level could have been a tad too loud. As acclaimed professor Chris Myers stated, “The swans might hear the noises at such a loud level, they will think it is coming from a 30 pound sparrow.”
Through our student generated lab, we were able to conclude that the swans do display characteristics of fear, aggression, curiosity, and indifference. We wondered if other swans demonstrate the same behavioral patterns as the swans in western pond. In the future, it would be interesting to continue the study by testing other creatures that live on western pond, and seeing if similar behavioral patterns arise. Behavior is just one aspect to study on swans and there are a variety of other features and possible studies on creatures of western pond.
Literature Cited:
http://jrscience.wcp.miamioh.edu/nsfall98/finalarticles.html,
A study in the Behavior of Swans http://jrscience.wcp.miamioh.edu/nsfall99/FinalArticles/ASTUDYOFLIFEONWESTERNPOND.htm
A Study of Life on Western Pond
www.clemetzoo.com/swans.html
http://www.clemetzoo.com/animals/animal_info/swan_trumpeter.html
www.taiga.net/swans/swanid.html
http://vquest.com/swan/fact.html
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu
http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/er/factsheets/birds/swan.html http://newton.dep.anl.gov/askasci/zoo00/zoo00240.htm
Henson, P. and J.A. Cooper. 1995. Nocturnal behavior of Trumpeter Swans >Cygnus buccinator. Auk 111: 1013-1018.
Henson, P. and J.A. Cooper. 1993. Trumpeter Swan incubation behavior in >areas of differing habitat quality J. Wildlife Manage. 57: 709-716.
Cooper, J.A. 1991. Canada goose management at the Minneapolis-St. Paul >International Airport. Pages 175-183 In Adams, L.W. and D.L. Leedy (eds.), Wildlife Conservation in Metropolitan Environments. Proc. Natl. Symp. on Urban Wildl., Natl. Inst. for Urban Wildl., Columbia, Md. http://www.chaffeezoo.org/zoo/animals/trump_swan.html
http://www.cws-scf.ec.gc.ca/hww-fap/swan/swan.html

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