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Swan

swans, birds, species, world, trumpeter, whistling, white and bill

SWAN, a sub-family (Cygnine or Olorida.) of the duck family, characterized by great size and length of neck. The swans have the legs (tarsi) short and reticulated, the front toes being strongly webbed, while the hind toe is not webbed, and has no lobe; and the loral region (between the eyes and the bill) is naked.

In the water the swans are the type of grace and beauty of figure, the long arched and flex ible nedc, the elevated wings, and their buoyancy and slrill in turning and gliding over the sur face., all contributing toward this effect. On land, however, the very posterior position of the legs renders them awkward and slow. Un like the fussy ducks and geese there is a calmness and dignity about the behavior of swans which has always excited admiration and bas caused these birds to figure much in poetic literature. Swans are generally quiet birds and some appear to be constitutionally mute, but most of them possess the most powerful and sonorous voices, though none of the musi cal ability attributed by poets to their death song. These great vocal powers .are due to the sounding apparatus developed by the coil ing of the greatly elongated trachea within the sternum, much after the fashion of the same organ in certain cranes (q.v.). Not over 10. clearly marked species of true swans are known the world over and nearly every part of the world has its one or more species, for these birds are strong of wing and wide, ranging. No species, however, breeds in Africa. They are arranged in four or five genera.

The North American swans belong to the genus Olor, distinguished from the typical Cygnus by purely technical characters. The two species, the whistling swan (O. columbianus) and the trumpeter swan (O. buccinator) are much alike in appearance, being chiefly white, but the latter is the larger, attaining a length of five feet and a spread of eight feet. And the tail contains 24 quill feathers. whereas the whistling swan has but 20. The former is the more widely distributed and the one usually seen on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, while the trumpeter swan is most characteris tic of the Mississippi Valley, up and down which it migrates, breeding in the upper parts and wintering along the Gulf coast. The whistling swan breeds only in the far north entirely beyond the limits of the United States. It winters in considerable numbers in Chesa peake Bay and the sounds of North Carolina. They associate with wild geese and like these feed largely upon water plants. On account of

their large size they are considered great prizes among gunners, but the younger birds, dis tinguished by the duskiness of their plumage and their less brazen voices, are preferred for table use. The nests are on the ground and are lined with dried grass and down. The two to five eggs are about four and one-half inches long and of a yellowish-white color. Except for the differences resulting from its distribu tion and fresh-water habitat the habits of the trumpeter swan are essentially similar.

The common domesticated white or mute swan (Cygnus olor) is a native of Europe, Asia and Afnca. Those of Great Britain are all of the introduced domesticated variety. The swan has, from a very early date, been especially pro tected by both legal and regal interference. In Henry VII's reign the theft of a swan's egg was deemed an offense punishable by a year's imprisonment; and the theft of a swan itself was very severely punished. Swans at a prior date were declared to be exclusively "royal" or "king's* property; and no subject was entitled to hold possession of these birds, save under special favor from the sovereign. To such subjects as possessed the permission to keep swans a special "swan* marlc was attached, and this mark was cut on the bill of the birds as a distinctive badge of ownership. The process of marking is known as "swan-uppine or "hopping,* and the ceremony in the Thames on the part of the Crown and of the Dyer's and Vintners'. companies takes place on the first Monday in August. At the present time but few swanneries remain, but in some places cygnets are carefully raised and bred for the market and a few of these birds are kept for ornamental purposes in most large parks. Sev eral other wild species occur in the Old World and one true swan in South America. The black swan (Chenopsis atrata) is an Australian species, first discovered in 1698; the general plumage is black, the bill being deep red, the primary wing-feathers white and the trachea does not enter the sternum. It is well known in the United States as an ornamental bird. Consult Beebe, C. W., 'The Swans' (in 'Tenth Annual Report of the. New York Zoological Society,' New York 1906); Stejneger, 'Pro ceedings U. S. Nat. Mus.' (Washington 1882); Newton, 'Dictionary of Birds' (Vol. IV, Lon don 1896) ; Grinnell, 'American Duck Shoot ing' (New York 1901).