The Ballet Of Grace: S-wans
Once the mystery has been revealed and once you managed to find out the word of the day, or was it the bird of the day (I do not know exactly!), swans will come floating towards you just to prove to you that they are determined, majestic, graceful creatures. If it were for me to be required to describe a swan I’d use such words as elegant, majestic, graceful and last but not least important beautiful. Of course I’d not forget to describe its looks using such words as big, long neck, soft feathers, and the all prevailing snow like white. Floating almost placidly and peacefully, serenely on the surface of water, swans do something and manage to get our attention. It can be either to eat them (as it was the case of some gypsy) or to watch their beauty as this happens to be the case of the large majority. And there is plenty of beauty to watch and admire out there as evidences show that there are neither more nor less than seven species of swans, namely Whooper, Tundra, Trumpeter, Black-necked, Mute, Black and last but not least important Coscoroba. The last two species are considered by many to be just some ducks but even so they look more like swans. You may wonder where these species live. They are quite widely spread if you ask me, covering such areas as the Arctic Islands, North America, Northern Russia, Australia, Brazil and even New Zealand.
If it were for us to take a short journey into their world then most surely we would first have to know the name of the family they belong to. It may sound pretty weird to some of you, but they belong to a family called Anatidae and a subfamily called Cygninae. What may come as a surprise to many of you is the fact that they are somehow related with the ducks. Oh, I know they do not look alike but rumors say that they belong to the same family. And so do geese. You probably do not envisage any of these two as portrayals of elegance, grace and distinction yet you manage to do just this when it comes to swans. I sometimes find it amazing how God or Mother Nature takes care of everything, gives just the needed grain of beauty to one creature and ignores to place the same grain in another, yet always seems to find just the right ingredient to make these creatures either loathed or loved and highly appreciated. Which is the criteria being used in this endowment? It still remains a well kept mystery. Perhaps it all comes down to the so called process of natural selection taking place in nature, what do you think? It may be this…it may be that…what remains clear and undeniable after all is the beauty of these birds.
Swans are deemed to be the largest aquatic birds, being at times used as ornamental birds, mainly because of their almost infinite grace. It can be either because of their long curving neck, because of their feathers or just because they happen to be somehow cuter than other floating birds, but swans happen to be highly appreciated. No wonder they are appreciated since there are numerous interesting and fascinating things to be discovered about them: first it should be said that they have the longest neck in the world of birds, having just about 23 to 25 neck vertebrae. The next surprising fact related to swans is that they happen to have as many as 25.000 feathers. I cannot but wonder who was so bored or perhaps just curious to count all its feathers! It looks to me very much like that story with “he loves me…He loves me not” while plundering the petals of a flower. The question is: Who took his time to pluck a swan? It must have been one of those persons studying them and providing us with more amazing information, don’t you think so?
You may as well wonder how long do these birds live? The latest figures prove that while in captivity they can live for as long as fifty years, whereas while being in the wild they live for as long as twenty years. Surprising numbers, don’t you think so? Now do not think that this is quite a short period for us humans; in the animal world this is quite a long period at times!
What do these birds eat in order to survive? Since they spend their time floating on the surface of the water it comes as no surprise that they feed themselves on the roots and tubers of aquatic plants. So this is how their nice shaping can be explained: they are vegetarian! But, did you know that they can as well duck into the water in the search for food for as long as ten to twenty seconds or even thirty seconds as it is the case of the so called Bewick Swans? Well, they are capable of doing just this. But while in captivity they may end up eating maize, lettuce, endive, watercress, barley, cabbage and grass too and they do not seem to dislike this. I mentioned at some point that they happen to be vegetarians. It is true but even so, the Mute Swan, one of the most wide spread swans happens to like fishing too (eating fish, I meant to say!).
Did you know that swans have been equipped with a gland that allows them to drink salt water? Well, in case you did not know then it is high time you find out that they do possess such a gland just above their eyes and it is precisely this one that removes salt from water and later one this one (I mean the salt) gets to be released through the nostrils. Amazing bird, intricate structure – this is just how I would summarize the above mentioned discovery!
When talking about mating there is no possible way to avoid talking about the so called myth of fidelity these birds have embodied and still continue to embody, despite the fact that there have been some voices claiming that they are not that faithful as they may look like or as others wish to see them. Even so, I will try to transmit to you what I managed to find about them. It is said that when they decide to choose their partner, they usually do it for life, or at least until this partner happens to die. If this tragedy occurs then most surely you would see them looking for another partner (they seem to hate loneliness, do they?) And if they hate loneliness, they surely love to spend their time dedicating to each other and being devoted to one another. I happen to find this quite nice given the fact that we are talking about some birds. When talking about a pair of swans we would normally use such terms as a cob, meaning the adult male, and a pen, meaning the adult female. Rumors say that the male is a quite dedicated father and husband as well and that he even took some karate lessons in order to be able to defend his family. I am talking here about the already famous blow of his wing, the one which is claimed to be so strong and powerful that it can break a man’s arm. So, perhaps next time you think about messing up with a male swan and his family you should be more cautious and be aware of its hammer like blow. I say this having in mind their aggressive reactions when being bothered. It is even said that they can remember those who happened to be kind to them and that they may as well remember those who have behaved badly with them and attack seems to be their first and only defense weapon.
The irony lies heavily in the fact that even though carrying the name of Mute swans, these swans happen to be perhaps some of the noisiest of them all. Funny, isn’t it? Just imagine how this would look like if it happened in our world. “Oh, I happen to have a mute girlfriend, wife etc.” and when meeting this woman she will bewilder you with her amazing vocal abilities… Yet, even though in the world of humans it comes as no surprise that women tend to be more talkative than men, in the world of Mute swans both males and females, cobs and pens as well happen to be quite noisy, or “talkative” as some would say. Those who took their time to study these swans have come to discover that they have just about eight different sounds in their repertoire. Too many, I dare say for some “mute” swans, don’t you think so?
How do swans display their aggressive side? They actually seem peaceful creatures while gliding on the surface of water, but even so appearances can at times be misleading. This does not transform swans into some kind of warriors but if you ever envisaged them as some kind of sluggish creatures, some sort of milksops then you should perhaps learn to give them more credit. Actually they happen to be quite aggressive birds when it comes to protecting their territory from any enemy intruders. They may come to peace with ducks (after all they happen to be relatives!) and other small waterfowls as well, but they may as well end up hissing and rushing forward ready to attack the enemy front. Whenever you see them lowering their neck, rushing forward and hissing – be prepared, they are ready to attack!
It is amazing how these birds, otherwise royal and a real emblem of elegance can be mean too, putting on the coat of karate. If you just seem to be unable to deem anything royal in them then you should perhaps take your time and reconsider things; I say this having in mind the fact that in England swans are considered to be the property of the queen, as such some sort of a royal asset. This fact comes to mingle with the fact that they are elegant and beauty and they all come down to a myth, a myth of beauty, fidelity, distinctness and uniqueness. They may be royal but they bite (A royal bite and as such even more precious); some of you may say that in fact these manners have nothing royal in them and you are just right. What about their looks? Can you say the same things regarding their looks?
When it comes to day to day life swans seem to just love routine, a routine which they thoroughly respect: they mate for life, they breed in the same place year after year, and they love the same female. Now wouldn’t you call this planned life? Excepting the so called step outside the marriage routine (or unfaithfulness as some may call it), they simply love routine. Even so, if you tended to think that things are all that simple when talking about swans then you would perhaps be surprised to discover that the statement according to which “mute swans mate for life” is rather debatable. It may occur rather rarely but still there have been reported cases in which a change of partners took place. Some of these guys seem to like diversity as well, but only after death (They may step outside the bonding partnership even without necessarily being widowers, but who knows after all, all these secrets of their relationship or better said their married life!). Do you happen to know them? I certainly don’t know them! If only I was able to speak or understand their language then I’d be able to tell you straightly what they do, without coming with all kind of suppositions. Even so, scientific researches have come to prove that when her partner dies a female swan will go for younger mates (She must be doing this for a good reason, don’t you think so? I guess she just wants to recover the lost time and feel young and beautiful or perhaps wanted again! Or do you think the young mates come to be more passionate lovers than older ones?). No matter the case, the matter of love in the family of swans has received a whole plethora of ambitions!
Talking about mating I have to mention the baby swans as well. They are usually referred to as cygnets. What make these ones special are their small size and the colors they display: gray or white. Did you know that the white ones are called “Polish” chicks? I guess you did not know this. What about the fact that grey chicks are called “royal” chicks? No matter the case, these tiny cygnets happen to be cute. At least this is how I consider them to be.
I find it interesting how mute swans carry their babies, their cygnets on their back. She does all this carrying job, if I may say so, just to protect her babies and keep them away from predators as well as keep them warm and dry. This is just an amazing image to watch! I’d refer to it using such words as motherhood in the world of swans.
It is said that the main explanation for their peaceful gliding on the water is to be provided by the fact that their bodies are full of air, air which keeps them floating. Now that all these things have been said, wouldn’t you like to have your own swan in your bath tub? That swan would probably end up being a tormented swan, so better leave it there in the wild. She may feel happier this way!
Do you happen to know which is the first lesson young cygnets are taught? If your answer comprises the word “glide” then most surely you are right. Under the protection of her parents she is introduced into the tricks of a graceful gliding. They may need this lesson later! This comes as no surprise given the fact that they were determined to come into this life from the egg period: in case you did not know baby swans will peck the egg shell for 24 hours before coming into this world. Quite a wish to be seen or see, don’t you think so?
Considered to be real pictures of nobility and grace, it comes as no surprise that they have been used in numerous stories, myths, fairytales, being loved by all those who proclaim themselves as beauty lovers, lovers of classic values and classic looks I’d say. I like them too and I have to admit that many times I end up being fascinated by their moves and their elegance.
And how could they not be good swimmers and excellent floating birds when they have webbed feet and their feathers were provided with some special oils that simply help keeping water away. Marvelous nature, marvelous creatures-don’t you think so?
I cannot but end this portrayal or attempt of sketching the image of the all graceful swan in a poetic manner and as such I will quote the lines written by Susa Morgan Black in the poem entitled “Swan”: “Swan of beauty, swan of grace / A queen among her ancient race / She glides across the mirrored lake / No ripple does the surface break.”11