Thursday, December 31, 2009

Seven Swans A Swimming

In the 17th century, Mute Swans were semi-domesticated in England. In the Netherlands, they were farmed, for their down, their meat and as ornamental birds, according to Sylvia Bruce Wilmore, in her book, Swans of the World. In the Netherlands, those practices continued until after World War II.

Because all swans in England belong officially to the Royal Family, swans given as gifts would have been marked on the upper part of their bills. Their markings identified the person who had responsibility for them and thus could benefit from them. Marks date back to 1370.

Mute Swans in the U.S., such as this one photographed by Larry Hindman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, are now regarded as unwanted invaders, trashing the fragile wetland habitat in which they live and chasing out other, more desirable, birds. They retain their mythic grip on people, touching the hearts of those who glimpse them gliding across a misty lake. This ancient Greek art shows Aphrodite, the goddess of love, riding a swan. This dichotomy confounds wetlands managers who want at least to control Mute Swans, if not eliminate them entirely.

“They are a beautiful form of biological pollution,” said Jonathan McKnight, associate director for habitat conservation at Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

Others disagree, citing Mute Swans’ circumpolar migratory route, and claim that they have a historic presence in North America, Current wildlife control professionals hunt them to reduce the population, which has been successful.

Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are unquestionably native birds to North America. They remain protected. This graphic from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shows the differences in the heads and bills of the respective species.

My efforts to find evidence of swan production operations in North America have not found any evidence that they were ever raised commercially here. They are wild birds, the largest flying bird, and formidable aggressors willing to protect their nests. Swans A Swimming remain a lovely image, but one not practical for domestic production.

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