Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Swan Song

Mute Swans

Mute Swans are a common sight in urban parks and their graceful beauty is admired. I have witnessed an altercation between a swan and a Canada Goose and the goose was not a winner. The swan was not mute but could only hiss and grunt. This species does lack a distinctive call and there is an old legend that before death the Mute Swan sings a beautiful song.
Here is an excerpt of Alfred Tennyson's poem, The Dying Swan...

The wild swan's death-hymn took the soul
Of that waste place with joy
Hidden in sorrow: at first to the ear
The warble was low, and full and clear; ...
But anon her awful jubilant voice,
With a music strange and manifold,
Flow’d forth on a carol free and bold;
As when a mighty people rejoice
With shawms, and with cymbals, and harps of gold...

The term 'Swan Song' has also come to represent a final glorious work of a performer or composer before their retirement or death.

None of the Mute Swans pictured here were singing or dying. The resting swan swam around with its head tucked in its wing, raising its head only when it needed to change direction. The cygnets were almost as large as the adult swans but lacked the white feathers and orange bill.

Trumpeter Swan

Year old Trumpeter Swans have stayed over the summer at Burlington Bay in Lake Ontario. Most of the flock flew north for the breeding season but will be returning soon. These swans are not mute and sound to me like a car horn when they honk. Their erect necks, black bills and call make them easy to identify amongst the Mute Swans in the harbour.

Beautiful birds indeed!

Thanks to Donna and Mare for recommending E. B. White's book, "The Trumpet of the Swan". I borrowed it this weekend and found it to be delightful!


  1. Swans are just so elegant looking. I know some birders find them to be a pain, maybe because of their aggressiveness?
    And your note about trumpeter swans reminded me of one of my favorite E.B. White novels, The Trumpet of the Swan.

  2. Such an interesting and beautiful post! I did not know that about "Swan Song." Hmmmmmm.

  3. Swans are not a species that we see locally and I an envious of those who have an opportunity to photograph these majestic birds. Lovely photos and text!

  4. We saw flocks and flocks of swans migrating north in northern Saskatchewan in April. They are magnificent birds.

  5. Ruth,

    Swans are so graceful looking. I always enjoy watching them skim over the water. And yes, they can be vicious if need be.

    Have you ever been to Stratford and seen the swans there. They are beautiful and when I was there last, very plentiful.


  6. Once we lived on a lake with mated pair of mute swans. While they are lovely to the eye, they are extremely aggressive in nesting season. One of our neighbors veered his canoe too close to the nest and the male whacked him good on the back. All of us learned to stay away from that end of the lake when they were nesting.

  7. I've heard of their aggression too, but I can't deny their beauty.

  8. They are beautiful and elegant creatures. Thanks for the info, I didn't know there were different kinds of swans.

  9. I am a retired elem teacher, and every year I read aloud, The Trumpet of the Swan" by EB White.
    Kids loved it, and we developed a natural interest for trumpeter swans!

  10. KGMom- I find geese far more aggressive toward humans I have never read the book...only Charlotte's Web by this author.

    Rondi- I have heard the expression but didn't know the origin of it either.

    Ann- Mute swans are not native, but have been introduced from Europe. I wonder why there were none brought to NB parks.

    Karen- I bet they made a racket. That would be something to see for sure!

    Mary- The swan release at Stratford was delayed this year because of ice and snow. I was going to attend because there is a piper and a ceremony. I have seen them on the Avon River several times.

    NCMW- I haven't seen cygnets until this year. The swans in our city parks don't seem to mate.

    Lynne- I think stories like "The Ugly Duckling" set us up to like swans from childhood on.

    Wendy- I have yet to see a Tundra Swan. They look similar and pass through our area during migration.

    Mare- I will have to get the book out of the library. You and KGMom have me intrigued!

  11. The goose lost to the

  12. We've got plenty of Mute Swans around here but I've never seen a trumpeter.-Thanks for the id tips in case I come across one.

  13. Anonymous5:53 pm GMT-5

    The neck of a swan
    Asks a very big question:
    Do you really care?


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