June 6, 2012

A Different Kind of Love Bird

Is there a creature more beautiful and graceful than the swan?  I ask myself this question every morning before I lock my bike up at Olmsted Park in Brookline, MA and head to work.  There are two swans that live in the lake at this park and every morning I go down to the waters edge and say hi to them.  With their snowy white feathers and long necks, they brighten my day.  That being said, I thought I should learn a little history about my feathered friends and who better to share it with than you, my readers. 
Swans are from the genus Cygnus and they are the largest members of the family anatidae.  There are 6 different species of swans.  The black swan, The black-necked swan, The Mute Swan, The Tundra Swan, The Trumpeter Swan, and The Whooper Swan.  The female swan is called a pen, the male swan is called a cob, and young swans are called cygnets.  A swans beak is called a bill, a group of swans is called a flock or a bevy, however when in flight they are called a wedge of swans.  The name comes from the V formation they create while in flight, usually during migration. 
Swans mate for life, though divorce does happen, it is rare and usually follows a failure in nesting.  The eggs in each clutch can vary from 3 to 8.  Swans like temperate environments and because of this you would never see them in the tropics.  5 species can be found in the northern hemisphere, 1 in Arizona, and 1 in South America.  Swans are herbivores who feed in the water and on land.  They create their nests on the ground near water.  Evidence suggests swans likely evolved in Europe or Eastern Eurasia then spread to the Northern Hemisphere.  It is not known when the Southern Species branched off.

Swans can be seen throughout modern culture.  Swans were a strong figure in Greek Mythology.  The story of Leda and the Swan recounts that Helen of Troy was conceived in a union of Zeus discussed as a swan and Leda, Queen of Sparta.  The Irish Legend of The Children of Lir is about a stepmother transforming her children into swans for 900 years.  In Norse Mythology, two swans drank from the sacred Well of Urd in the realm of Asgard, home of the gods.  The water was so holy it would turn anyone who touched it white, including the two original swans and all there descendants.  In Hinduism, Swans are compared to saintly persons whose chief characteristic is to be in the world without without getting attached to it, just as swans feathers do not get wet even though they are in the water.  Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake is considered one of the most important works by any composer, and it is also my favorite ballet.  The Swan Princess was a very popular animated feature in 1994.  Just recently, Black Swan was released.  A 2010 American pshycological thriller and horror film where a ballet dancer wins the lead in Swan Lake.  It is hard to deny a swans beauty and people love beautiful things, which is probably why they are so present in modern culture.  After all, who doesn't love the story of the Ugly Duckling?
I hope you enjoyed this blog post as much as I enjoyed writing it.  I will leave you with a couple videos of the swans I took over the past few weeks.

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