by Liz

There are six species of swan, Mute swan, Australian Black swan, Black-necked swan of South America, Whooper swan, Trumpeter swan of North America and Bewick's swan. The Coscoroba swan is no longer considered to be a true swan.

They mate for life, although there can be divorces! Perhaps because of a nesting failure or one of them dying. They have huge nests, and lay 3-8 eggs. Both male and female incubate the eggs.

The life span is 10-20 years.

Food: the edge of their bills are serrated, which enables them to eat grass and weed. But they can also eat small mammals, fish and frogs.

Evidence suggests that the genus Cygnus evolved in Europe or western Eurasia during the Miocene (23 to 5 million years ago), spreading all over the Northern Hemisphere until the Pliocene (5 to 2 million years ago). When the southern species branched off is not known.

There are many references to swans in literature: Parsifal by Wagner, the Ugly Duckling, Leda and the swan. The god Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces Leda, the Queen of Sparta.

The Irish legend of the Children of Lir is about a stepmother transforming her children into swans for 900 years. In the legend The Wooing of Etain, the king of the Sidhe transforms himself and the most beautiful woman in Ireland, Etain, into swans to escape from the king of Ireland and Ireland's armies.

In Norse mythology, there are two swans that drink from the sacred Well of Urd in the realm of Asgard, home of the gods. The water of this well is so pure and holy that all things that touch it turn white, including this original pair of swans and all others descended from them.

swan shield

In the Finnish epic Kalevala, a swan lives in the Tuoni river located in Tuonela, the underworld realm of the dead. According to the story, whoever killed a swan would perish as well. Today, five flying swans are the symbol of the Nordic Countries, the whooper swan is the national bird of Finland, and the mute swan is the national bird of Denmark.

"Labedz" (Polish for "Swan") is a Polish/Lithuanian coat of arms which was used by many Polish szlachta and Lithuanian Bajorai (noble) families under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The variant on the left is the coat-of-arms of writer Henryk Sienkiewicz's family.

A swan is one of the attributes of St Hugh of Lincoln based on the story of a swan who was devoted to him.

Swans are revered in Hinduism, and are compared to saintly persons whose chief characteristic is to be in the world without getting attached to it, just as a swan's feather does not get wet although it is in water. The Sanskrit word for swan is hamsa or hansa, and the "Raja Hansa" or the Royal Swan is the vehicle of Goddess Saraswati, and symbolises the "Sattwa Guna" or purity par excellence. The swan if offered a mixture of milk and water, is said to be able to drink the milk alone. Therefore, Goddess Saraswati the goddess of knowledge is seen riding the swan because the swan thus symbolizes "Viveka" i.e. prudence and discrimination between the good and the bad or between the eternal and the transient.

The Royal Swans are a flock of swans of two varieties - the mute swan and black swan - the original six pairs of which were a gift to the city of Ottawa from Queen Elizabeth II in 1967, to commemorate the Canadian Centennial. Since then, the number of Royal Swans has increased such that they now occupy the waters of the Rideau River between Carleton University and Cummings Bridge.

Swan Upping is an annual ceremonial and practical activity in Britain in which mute swans on the River Thames are rounded up, caught, marked, and then released. It occurs annually during the third week of July. Traditionally, the British Monarch retains the right to ownership of all unmarked mute swans in open water, but only exercises ownership on certain stretches of the River Thames and its surrounding tributaries. It was formalised with a Royal Charter of Edward IV passed in 1482, establishing "How much land he must have which shall have a mark or game of swans", preventing the claim of ownership of swans by "yeomen and husbandmen, and other persons of little reputation." Swans caught by the Queen's Swan Uppers under the direction of the Swan Marker are unmarked, except for a ring linked to the database of the British Trust for Ornithology. Those caught by the Dyers' and Vintners are identified as theirs by means of a further ring on the other leg. Originally, rather than being ringed, the swans would be marked on the bill, a practice reflected in the pub name The Swan with Two Necks, a corruption of "The Swan with Two Nicks".

A Japanese story- The Feathery robe

On the coast of Suruga, at Miwo, there once lived a fisherman by the name of Hakurioo. One day when he was resting from his work on the bank in the sunshine he saw a brightly glistening white robe lying before him, delicate and translucent and entirely woven from feathers. At the place where the shoulders would fit on the wonderful robe there hung two wings.

He eagerly picked it up, wanting to take it home and carefully put it away, when a beautiful girl appeared before him. She sobbed aloud and demanded the return of her robe.

Hakurioo was at first not at all willing to give up his find. But then the girl said, amidst endless sobs and tears, that she was a heavenly goddess, and that she would have to remain miserably on earth as long as she did not have her feathery robe, that she had taken off while bathing, and which had thus wrongly come into his hands.

Moved by compassion, the fisherman said, "Very well, I will give your robe back to you, if in return you will dance the heavenly dance for me with which you daughters of heaven soar through the clouds."

The maiden replied, "Yes, give me my robe, and you shall behold the most beautiful dance that I am able to dance."

The fisherman considered for a moment and said, "No, dance first, and then I will give you your robe."

With this the heavenly maiden grew angry and said, "Shame on you, that you doubt the words of a goddess! Quickly, give me my robe, for without it I am not able to dance. You will not regret it. That I promise you!"

Thereupon Hakurioo handed her the feathery robe. She immediately put it on and rose into the air. True to her words, before the fisherman's amazed eyes she performed the most magnificent dance that one can imagine, at the same time singing the most beautiful, sensuous melodies, until Hakurioo did not know what was happening to him. In more and more beautiful loops she rose higher and higher, but it was a long time before she disappeared from the enchanted fisherman's view, soaring into a light cloud that was drifting toward Fujiyama's summit, with the last sounds of her godly song sounding in his ears.

A German story - The Three Swans

Once upon a time there was a hunter. He was very despondent because his wife had died. He often wandered about in the forest entirely alone, thinking about whether or not he would ever find a second wife whom he could love as much as he had the first one.

One day he wandered ever deeper into the woods, with his gun at his side and not knowing where he wanted to go. At last he came to a straw hut. Stepping inside, he found there an old man with a crucifix lying before him. He greeted the man, who received him in a friendly manner and asked him what had led him to this forest hut.

The hunter told him of his sorrows: that he had lost his wife, that he now lived by himself, and that he did not know if he would ever be happy again.

The old man said to him, "There is help. Three swans will come here soon. Look at them carefully! After they have flown to the pond, you must secretly go there without letting them see you. Take one of their dresses and immediately return here with it."

As soon as the old man had spoken, three snow-white swans flew toward the hut. After the hunter saw them, they flew further to a nearby pond.

The hunter crept up and secretly took a dress that one of the swans had taken off and laid on the bank. Then he returned with it to the old man's hut.

When the swans wanted to get dressed again, one of them had only a shift. As a beautiful maiden she came to the hunter, who had her dress, and moved into his house, and became his dear wife.

Before the hunter left the old man, the latter said to him, "You must carefully hide the swan-dress from your wife so that she cannot find it again."

The hunter did this, and he lived with his second wife for fifteen years. She bore him several children, and the married couple were very happy together.

Then it happened that one morning the man left, saying to his wife, "I shall be back at noon to eat."

After he had left, the woman watched him until he disappeared into the woods. Then she went to the attic, which the man had not locked this time, opened the chest containing the swan-dress, put it on, and as a swan flew far, far away.

When the man came home to eat, his wife had disappeared. Not even the children could say where she was, for they had not seen her.

Then the hunter returned to the old man in the woods and told him of his misfortune: that once again he had lost his wife, and that he did not know where she had gone.

The old man said, "You did not put the dress away carefully. She found it and has flown away with it."

"Oh," said the hunter sadly, "is it not possible for me to find her again?"

"It is possible," said the old man, "but now it is dangerous, and it could cost you your life."

The hunter wanted to do everything for his wife, and so the old man said to him, "First you must attempt to get into the castle where your wife now lives. That will best happen as follows: She has donkeys that carry flour from a miller every day. Go to the miller and ask him to hide you in a flour sack. The rest you will learn from your wife."

With that the hunter found his way to the miller and talked him into hiding him in a sack. A donkey carried him a great distance to a splendid castle.

After arriving there he immediately found his wife, and no one could have been happier than was she, and she thanked her husband from the bottom of her heart for coming to redeem her.

But then she said to him, "Before we can be happy and live together, you must fight with three dragons who are here. They will come to you on three days and in different forms. They will torment and plague you for one hour each day, and if you withstand this without uttering a sound then they cannot further harm you, and I will be free. But if you speak a single word, they will kill you."

Then the hunter promised that he would surely redeem her.

On the first day three great snakes came and wrapped themselves around the hunter's feet until he could not move, and they tormented him for an entire hour. Because he endured this in silence they went away without harming him.

The next day the dragons appeared as turtles and shot balls of fire at the hunter, until he could no longer withstand it, but he withstood it nonetheless, and he uttered not a sound, so after one hour they left him.

On the third day they came again as gigantic snakes and took the hunter whole into their jaws. He was deathly afraid and thought that he would have to cry out, and that he would no longer be able to withstand it, but out of love for his wife, he withstood it nonetheless.

When the three hours had passed, there suddenly stood before him -- instead of the three snakes -- three noblewomen. These were the three enchanted swans, whom he had now redeemed. And they remained with him and with his wife in the castle, and they all lived together in peace and happiness, and if they have not died, then they must be still alive.

(From Wikipedia): A number of prehistoric species have been described, mostly from the Northern Hemisphere. Among them was the giant Siculo-Maltese C. falconeri, which was taller (though not heavier) than the contemporary local dwarf elephants (Elephas falconeri).

Mr Asbo

"Mr. Asbo" - the aggressive Cambridge swan

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