THE Swans are the largest of the Water Fowl, and adults of those species which inhabit the northern hemisphere can be recognised at a glance by their pure white plumage and long necks. They differ from both the Geese and Ducks in having the space in front of the eyes quite bare of feathers, and from the former also by their short tarsus, which is never so long as the middle toe.
Young Swans, on changing from the downy stage, have a plumage which is uniformly brown, but white feathers make their appearance almost at once, and by the time they are about fifteen months of age the whole plumage is white. Swans shot in India are for the most part immature, the plumage consisting of a mixture of white and brown feathers. In very young birds the skin in front of the eyes is covered by some stiff bristle-like feathers, but these are soon lost.
Swans moult once a year, in the autumn, and the sexes are alike.
Swans swim very gracefully, often with partially opened wings, and they fly well. They walk clumsily, and seldom leave the water, except to rest on the bank.
Both the Whooper and Bewick's Swan are included by Messrs. Hume and Marshall among the game birds of India, but on very insufficient evidence. An illustration of a Swan which was killed in Nepal is among the paintings of Nepalese birds made by Hodgson, and now deposited in the library of the Zoological Society of London. The feet and the skull of, probably, the same bird are to be seen in the British Museum. There has been considerable difference of opinion regarding the species of Swan which these relics and the drawing refer to. The latter is on a very small scale, but the colouring of the head, in my opinion, represents a young Whooper. It is difficult to identify the skull, but the feet are small enough for a Bewick's Swan. On the whole, I am inclined to think that Hodgson procured a young Whooper, but the matter is so uncertain that it is better to wait for further evidence before admitting either of the above species to the list of the birds of India.