I've heard that a swan can break your arms with a flap of its wings, etc., but am not sure if that's true. There's a nature reserve - local to me - where the swans come up on foot out of the water and approach humans voluntarily, obviously looking for food. I've been feeding them (with appropriate things, not white bread) including holding out food in my hand for them to take.

Is this safe or have I just been lucky so far? - I was a bit intimidated as they seemed quite pushy asking for food once they knew I had it (I'm 5'5 and they come up to chest height to me!) and I didn't know how to respond!

Swan and me interacting

  • This seems like it might be a better fit at skeptics.SE.
    – StrongBad
    May 31, 2016 at 22:00
  • 3
    It is on topic here. Jun 1, 2016 at 0:38
  • 2
    While it's not neccessarily an answer to your question, I think feeding of wild birds is generally discouraged anyway, not because of potential harm but because it 1) encourages them to expect it from people in general, some of who may not want the attention, and 2) discourages them from foraging themselves, which is an important survival skill.
    – Tim Malone
    Jun 1, 2016 at 5:51

1 Answer 1


The "swans can break your arm" concept is rather lacking in evidence, though one once caused a kayaker to drown. They are a nuisance on the water, especially if you get between adults and their cygnets. Most of what they do, even when they're agitated, is an attempt to drive away a perceived threat, rather than a real act of aggression.

On the other hand, when they're used to people to the extent that they approach you, and you don't get between them and any young, there's no evidence that you'll come to any harm.

  • The difference between a swans' "you have food. I want food. Give me the food." pushiness and "you got too close to my nest and are a threat to my eggs/chicks" behaviour is very obvious. If in doubt (which is unlikely if you have every experienced the latter) just back off.
    – Eric Nolan
    Mar 12, 2021 at 15:16

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