Ducks Unlimited
Friday, 16 February 2018 08:24

The wonderful white swan

Written by Liz Brook
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The white swan arrived in New Zealand in 1866. It is one of seven swan species found world–wide. It maintained a tenuous hold in the wild on various wetlands and some live in a semi–feral state in town parks. They once numbered several hundred in the wild but the 1968 the Waihine storm destroyed much of their feeding habitat and the population crashed.

It is a protected species here in NZ. Quite different to its natural range is northern Eurasia from Great Britain to eastern Russia.

Outbreaks of botulism with ducks and other wildlife can be devastating to the swans.

The female does all the incubating of eggs with the male guarding her. He can be very aggressive. They are large and powerful birds. When the males have territorial fights they can be quite terrifying and each tries to seize the Risk taker: Out in the open, but being cautious. Photo: Emma Williams. others head. Usually the stronger of the two managers to hold the other combatants head under water until it gives in and races away or worse is dead.

The cygnets are covered in a grey down when first hatch, and they are escorted round the lakes by their parents. The down changes to a brownish white, and then changes over the year to the white feathers of the adult.

The birds fledge at between 120–150 days. The parents may then chase off the young, as they become adults. Breeding starts at three to four years of age.

Aquatic plants make up a lot of their diet, but they will graze on grass and clover, as well as taking leaves from overhanging willow. Supplementary feeding may be needed at times and maize, wheat and a small amount of bread can be given, but it must not be mouldly.

The lifespan of the swan can be up to 25 years, but in the wild some only survive for five or six years. Reasons can be collisions with power lines, attacks by dogs, lead poison from digesting fishing weights, and botulism.

For many centuries, mute swans in Britain were domesticated for food. It is quite possible that this domestication saved the swan for being hunted to extinction in Britain.

Swans are no longer kept for food, but in England the Crown still has an official Swan Keeper and the ancient ceremony of swanupping, when swans on the Thames are rounded up for identification by the Crown, still takes place in July. Old records show the menu for an important medieval banquet might include as many as 50 swans.

The swans have a very large place in European mythology and folklore.

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