Hey, that’s my Swan!

Did you know that Queen Elizabeth II owns the mute swans (Cygnus olor) in England?

The Crown claimed ownership of all the mute swans in England (and Wales) way back in the 12th century to stop commoners from depriving the royals of one of their favorite meals. (And you thought it was for altruistic reasons.)

In later centuries,” swan upping,” as it is called, became an annual English event in which mute swans were rounded up from the River Thames, ringed with a light aluminum band on a leg, and then released again.  The Crown owns all the unbanded swans. In 2012, for the first time in 900 years, the ceremony was cancelled along part of the Thames due to flooding.

Okay, but what is a mute swan, you ask?

Well, they are not truly mute. They just don’t make as much noise as other swans, such as trumpeter swans. When mute swans become aggravated, they show traditional British restraint by just hissing and beating their wings. They may also express themselves vocally during their courtship dance, which is often accompanied by a range of snorting, hoarse whistling, and grunting sounds.

This must be very romantic, since the mute swan usually mates for life. If a mate dies, the surviving swan may take another mate but surviving spouses have also been known to die of a broken heart.

Lest we become too idealistic, swans occasionally divorce following a nesting failure. Unlike humans, this doesn’t result in child custody disputes. One wonders if, like humans, they blame their exes for all their failings.  If only we could speak swan.

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