Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Wednesday Wildlife - The Mute Swan

One of the largest flying birds in the world the Mute Swan can weigh up to 39lb.

Britain has half the European total of Mute Swans with an estimated 45,000 adults.
Once the property of the crown, which granted rights of ownership (usually for a fee, of course) to local aristocracy. As long ago as 966, in the reign of King Edgar, there are records of the king granting rights to the abbots of Croyland in Lincolnshire.

The birds had their wing bones cut so they didn’t fly off to the neighbouring manor. For 500 years the Mute Swan was not a glorious bird of the air but a large lump of roast meat on the lord’s dinner table and the right to dish one up was a major status symbol.

Henry III’s Christmas banquets at York in 1251 reduced the swan population by 351 birds.

Swan laws – the rules for managing the royal swans – were first codified in 1482. These laws listed who had been granted rights and what marks they used on the swans beaks or feet to identify ownership. By the reign of Elizabeth I there were around 900 registered marks.

The arrival of the turkey in the mid sixteenth century began the decline of the swan as a meat provider – the turkey was not only cheaper and easier to manage but its flesh was also more flavoursome and less tough.

The importance of the swan is shown to this day by its survival in place names, street names and pub signs. “Who does not know the famous Swan”, wrote Wordsworth of the inn of that name at Grasmere. Indeed, there are estimated to be over 750 pubs with swan in the name. The Swan in Clare, Suffolk, has an early fifteenth century 10 feet long carving said to be the oldest inn sign in England.


  1. What beautiful photos! And what interesting information about the noble swan.
    Thanks, Scriptor.
    Canadian Chickadee

  2. Beautiful pictures indeed! "A swan can break a man's arm, you know," is a recurrent phrase in "Adrian Mole and The Weapons of Mass Destruction".
    There is a swan on lake Monrepos near where I live; he detests geese and will not rest until he has driven the last one out of his lake and onto the grassy banks. It is quite entertaining to watch, but I guess he's quite serious about it himself.

  3. It seems to be a universal warning to children that a swan can break a man's arm. I wonder when the last time it happened was? I suspect the vast majority of the species are much maligned. (Meanwhile, cygnets are taught'A man can wring a cob's neck!')


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