CHICAGO — Swans have a seemingly placid demeanor, and their monogamous mating habits have made them a symbol of lasting love. But the creatures — generally white, with long graceful necks and a black "mask" around their eyes — are territorial and can be quite aggressive. That makes them good at driving off geese, but can also lead to disaster.
Anthony Hensley, 37, encountered the uglier side of their personality last weekend in a horrific way. He tended swans that helped keep geese away from a condominium's pond near Des Plaines, Ill.
Witnesses told police that a nesting swan circled Hensley's kayak early Saturday, then attacked him, toppling the kayak and tossing him into the water. The bird continued to lunge at him aggressively as he struggled to make it to shore before disappearing underwater, authorities said.
Hensley and his wife, Amy, had two daughters, Hayden Rose, 3, and Gabriella, 1.
On Monday, his loved ones were struggling to understand how Hensley — an experienced kayaker who retained the athletic build of his high school football days — could have drowned while on a job they said he'd held for about a decade.
"It just terrible; no words can describe it," said his stepmother, Tammy Hensley. "We are all very upset, but I can't stop thinking about his two daughters."
Family members said Hensley worked for a company that places swans in ponds to deter geese. A representative of Knox Swan and Dog could not be reached for comment.
A state safety representative said an investigation had begun into Hensley's death. Police were also investigating.
Swans, like many creatures, will defend their territory vigorously, especially when their young are involved, said Steve Sullivan, senior curator of urban ecology for the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
"Swans are certainly perfectly happy to attack something that's much larger than them," Sullivan said. "It's mama with her babies, and mama with her babies is always ferocious."