Swans have a seemingly placid demeanor, and their monogamous mating habits have long made them a symbol of lasting love. But the creatures -- generally snowy white, with long graceful necks and a black “mask” around their eyes -- are territorial and can be quite aggressive when threatened. This aggression makes them good at driving off geese; it can also lead to tragedy.
Anthony Hensley was a 37-year-old married father of two who worked for a company that uses dogs and swans to shoo pesky geese from properties in the area. Hensley had taken to a kayak Sunday morning to check on the swans in a Des Plaines-area pond when one of the larger birds turned on him, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Cook County sheriff’s investigators believe Hensley either got too close to the swan or the swan’s nesting area, the Sun-Times said. Hensley rolled off his kayak and landed in the water, and the swan kept up its relentless attack.
The Sun-Times reports that the swan continued to pursue Hensley as he tried to swim to shore. Hensley was submerged when emergency workers arrived, and an autopsy found that he died from drowning near the Bay Colony condominiums in unincorporated Des Plaines.
(Geese can be plenty destructive to landscaping, and their sheer numbers can make areas unusable due to all the droppings. By comparison, a handful of swans can be model neighbors.)
On Sunday, Hensley’s family members were grief-stricken, struggling to take it all in. Like many, they couldn’t understand how Hensley was unable to beat off the swan.
“Maybe he didn’t want to hurt the animal,” Hensley’s father-in-law, George Koutsogiannis, told the Sun-Times. “Maybe he didn’t fight back enough when the swan attacked him....I can’t understand how this was possible.”
There were no immediate details Monday about the swan that attacked Hensley, or its fate. Depending upon their size and breed, swans can be quite large with some standing 4 feet tall, weighing about 30 pounds and boasting a wing span of up to 8 feet wide.
Hensley reportedly did not have life insurance, and a memorial fund was set up to help his family.