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Swan Gifts

The swans are the largest members of the duck family Anatidae, and are amongst the largest flying birds. The largest species, including the mute swan, trumpeter swan, and whooper swan, can reach length of over 1.5 meters and weigh over 15 kg. Their wingspans can be almost 3 meters. Compared to the closely related geese they are much larger in size and have proportionally larger feet and necks. They also have a patch of unfeathered skin between the eyes and bill in adults. The sexes are alike in plumage, but males are generally bigger and heavier than females.

Water Birds - Swans

In myths and legends swans are common; usually they symbolize grace and beauty and are, of course, white. Black swans were quite unknown in the northern hemisphere until fairly recently. In Greek legend, Leda was ravished by Zeus when he took the shape of a swan, although in most other legends the swan symbolized purity and innocence. The swan-knights of the Middle Ages, such as Lohengrin, undoubtedly gave rise to the po;ularity of the swan as a heraldic figure; Henry V’s pennant at the Battle of Agincourt carried a swan, as did many other princely families in Europe, and today it still continues as an inn sign. In many stories, for example ‘The Eleven Princes’ by Hans Andersen and the story immortalized by Tchaikovsky in the ballet ‘Swan Lake’, swans are enchanted princes waiting to be released from a spell. Whooper swans are probably the species which drew Apollo’s sun-chariot across the sky and the mournful calling of migrating swans as they depart for the Arctic in spring also gave rise to the legend that they only sing before they die – their swan-song.

Centuries before the Black Swan was discovered in Australia, black swans were mentioned in myths; since the white swan usually symbolized purity and goodness, it was natural to make the symbol of evil and the underworld a black swan. The real Black Swan Cygnus atratus is even now generally considered unlucky in many parts of the world, and for that reason it is rarely kept in parks.

In the late nineteenth century, Black Swans were imported into New Zealand and soon multiplied to almost plague proportions. The numbers have now stabilized to a certain extent and the swans are culled each year to maintain a reasonable population. The largest concentrations occur on Lakes Ellesmere and Whangape, at the former it has been estimated that there are about 60,000 birds. The Black-necked Swan Cygnus Melanocoryphus of South America would seem at first to be a ‘missing link’ between the black and white swans. However they have evolved quite separately and, although it is quite widely distributed in the southern parts of South America, very little is known about the details of its life. Ducks and geese are among the most familiar of all birds, mainly because they have long been domesticated. Nowadays they are also popular as ornamental birds and many parks and gardens have small collections of exotic species.

Perhaps the most popular and exotic of all the ducks is the Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata. As its name implies, it is oriental in origin, but it is now found in many parts of the world and has often gone wild.

The Greylag Goose Anser anser, shown landing on a lake, is the ancestor of one of the two types of domestic goose (the other is the Oriental Swan-goose). Geese were probably the first birds to be domesticated, although it is not known exactly when. The Ancient Egyptians kept them and Homer wrote about them. In an Ancient Egyptian tomb discovered at Medum, which was built before the Great Pyramid of Giza, is a frieze depicting Greylag Geese, together with White-fronted and Red breasted Geese Branta ruficollis. Today, Red-breasted Geese only occur in large concentrations in Romania on the Black Sea coast. They breed in Siberia.

In myths and legends swans are common; usually they symbolize grace and beauty and are, of course, white Black swans were quite unknown in the northern hemisphere until fairly recently

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