Can swans take off from dry land?

In a recent BBC documentary about the life of the police who patrol the 400 mile A1 route in the UK, there occurred an incident in which two swans had landed on the road and had caused a three mile tailback by waddling along the centre (sic) of the carriageway. Police were in attendance and were trying to shoo the swans into taking off again, an effort which was unsuccessful …eventually the swans were corralled into a makeshift roadside pen, and some time later were removed by a lady officer of the RSPCA.

I couldn’t help but scoff silently at the efforts of the patrolmen to cajole the birds into taking off again …I had first hand experience of a swan landing on a roadway some three years ago, when a swan landed on a main thoroughfare adjacent to the road on which my business premises are located, and I ushered the bird into my street and onto the pavement (sidewalk) where it obligingly sat itself down while I phoned the RSPCA. Within ten minutes a very capable pair of ladies arrived on the scene and quickly got the swan into a cage in the back of the van, ready for relocation to a more aquatic environment.

One of the officers explained to me at the time that flying swans not infrequently mistake a wet roadway for a stretch of water, and effect a landing which can on occasion cause injury to the bird. She also said that a swan could not take off from dry land again, and always had to be rescued and transported to water (unless of course the bird somehow found its own way to water).

After watching the documentary referred to above I thought I would google “can swans take off from dry land” and was surprised to read, on a couple of sites, posts which claimed that a swan can in fact take off from dry land. Here for example, the writer maintains, in answer to the question “Yes, but they need at least 30 yards to become airborne and the same again to reach a safe height to clear surrounding obstructions such as houses.”

I have to say I am skeptical about these assertions …one would have thought that if such were the case, then at least one person would have captured the occurrence on camera, and posted it on Youtube. As far as I can tell, however, there is no video evidence of swans taking off from dry land, although there are hundreds of videos of them taking off from water.

If anybody can direct me to any evidence to the contrary, I would be much obliged.

Swans taking off from dry land:

It would be quite a handicap if they couldn’t. Roads aren’t the only places that can form puddles, and one would think that, if every time a swan mistook a puddle for a pond they would become stranded, that the population of swans wouldn’t last very long.

If you think about it, is there any reason there would be a bird that could take off from water, but not land? Land offers a better platform for picking up speed (if that is an issue) than water would. The only way water could be better is if a bird needed to catch a wave to gain enough speed to take off, which would be a big problem what with sharks and all.

Not to mention there are very seldom big waves on most lakes. Having to wait for a storm to take off would also be a big problem. I’ve never seen a swan in the ocean where you can count on some bigger waves at elast every day or so.

That’s not the only way water could be better. A bird might be able to swim faster than it can waddle.

Swans are nasty territorial beasts. Those swans may be refusing to leave instead of being incapable of doing so.

[quote=“engineer_comp_geek, post:2, topic:787534”]

Swans taking off from dry land:


Forgive my skepticism, but IMO that video has all the hallmarks of a very skilfully produced advertising commercial making full use of advanced computer graphics.

It is unheard of for a herd of swans to land and take off in a field with no body of water anywhere near.

IMHO YMMV etc etc …

Was the programme A1: Britain’s Longest Road Series 1: Episode 1, first shown on the 8th May 2017? Because if so I dispute your version of what happened, having just watched it on iPlayer. The police officers weren’t encouraging them to take off, they were shepherding them down an embankment away from the carriageway. When the young swans hid under some foliage, the police improvised a barrier to keep them from straying.

Yeah, I thought about that after posting.

Penguins, maybe, but they don’t fly. And that’s not on the surface. Is there a bird you know of that can swim on the surface faster than it can walk on land? Given the much greater resistance of water over air, that would seem unlikely.

If you watch the programme again and fast-forward to 26.30, it is obvious that the police are initially trying to get the swans to fly. Only later, after their inevitable lack of success, do they manage to get the swans barricaded.

You can hear and see the CCTV controller saying “They are trying to initiate a take-off” …“they” referring to the police, not the swans.

I live on a migration path for one type of North American swan. I see them in fields during migration. No water. Yes, they can take off from land. They also nest on land, and will take off from their nests to lead predators away. More info here.

Interesting link …and it does say that these Tundra swans can take off from land.

For all I know, it may be the case that some types of swan can in fact take off from land, and other species are unable to do so.

I still find it strange that there appears to be no authentic video record of a swan taking off from dry land.

Post #2 in this thread has a link with a video of swans taking off from land. It makes absolutely no sense to say that swans cannot take off form land.

Post #8 expresses my opinion of the authenticity of the video linked to in post #2 …IMO it is obvious that that video is a computer generated advert.

There is nothing about that footage that looks CGI to me. There’s even friggin’ sensor dust in the footage.

Does this work for you?

Here’s a still shot of swans taking off from a field in Ireland.

Here’s a page with a series of still shots showing swans taking off from a field in Iceland.

On this page, you’ll find an image of a flocks of swans “Spooked by a nearby bird of prey” who are taking off from a green field, located in a refuge in North Carolina.

At this point, I’m going to call this myth busted. Swans can take off from land.

Water has a relatively smooth surface. As they rise above the surface, birds can propel themselves evenly with their feet striking the surface. Land is generally vegetated and more uneven. A bird’s feet will strike the surface more unevenly which will make it more difficult to pick up speed.

Sure, terrain can vary wildly. Not as wildly as water, perhaps, but there is still going to certain conditions in the water that will impede take-off. Has it been documented that certain bird species can pick up more speed on the water during take-off than they can on level land? I’m thinking that just as the bird sort of skims the water surface during take-off, it will have most of its weight taken off its feet before it actually is airborne from land.

Still, the question is: Is there any bird that can take off from water but that cannot take off from land? That is not to say that such birds can take off from any terrain imaginable. Nor would I expect for birds that are good at taking off from water to be able to take from any water conditions imaginable.