89. THE MUTE SWAN.
Cygnus olor, (GMELIN).
Primaries wholly white or pale brown. Neck as long as, or longer than, the body. Skin in front of the eye bare of feathers, except in very young birds. Tarsus much shorter than the middle toe.
Upper mandible orange-yellow, except the knob at base, the nail, the nostrils, and the skin between the base of the bill and the eye, which are black. Sexes alike.
VERNACULAR NAME :—Penr, Punjab.
THE occurrence of the Mute Swan in India has been noted on many occasions, and this bird appears to be a somewhat regular visitor, in small numbers, to the north-west part of the Empire. It has been procured in the Peshawar and Hazara districts of the Punjab, and near Sehwan in Sind, in the cold weather. Stoliczka stated, many years ago, that he observed Swans, probably of this species, in the Runn of Cutch. Major Water-field shot this species near Peshawar on the 3rd of June, and Mr. D. B. Sinclair shot a specimen on the 1st of June and observed another on the 7th of July. This Swan thus appears to visit India regardless of season, or it may, not improbably, be a resident in certain favourable localities.
The Mute Swan is a bird of temperate climates, and does not go to the far north. In fact, I cannot discover that it has ever been observed north of the 60th degree of north latitude. Laterally, the range of this Swan extends from Western Europe to Eastern Siberia. In winter it visits Northern Africa, Asia Minor, Persia, and, as we know, North-Western India. It breeds in portions of Central Europe, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, in Turkestan, and in Mongolia.
The Mute Swan appears to be a resident species in the central portion of its range, and to be migratory only in the northern and southern portions. It is the Swan which is most commonly kept in confinement throughout Europe, and it seems to be able to live in all climates.
As a rule, the Mute Swan is found on inland pieces of water or slow-flowing rivers, where there is a good deal of vegetation on the banks. In the winter it may be seen on the sea-shore, at the mouth of some river, or in some quiet bay, and' it seldom goes far from the shore. It lives, and also migrates, in flocks or small parties, and is particularly shy. It flies like a Goose or a Duck, with the neck stretched out at full length; and the noise made by its wings, when flying, is very loud, and can be heard for a long distance.
The Mute Swan is not entirely a silent bird. When angry it hisses like a Goose, and at the pairing season it is said to have a soft, low voice, not at all unmusical. At times it is also said to have a trumpet-like call, like that of a Crane.
The Mute Swan, like others of its tribe, feeds chiefly on vegetable matter growing in the water, and also on insects, snails, and worms. It never dives, but it submerges the front half of its body when searching with its bill for food at the bottom of ponds, etc.
I shall now proceed to quote Mr. Stevenson, who in his " Birds of Norfolk " gives us a very full and interesting account of the habits and the breed ing of the Mute Swan in a state of domestication. He says :—" The old Swans usually commence their nests in March, but in cold backward seasons are a week or two later, and for a fortnight or three weeks before the eggs are laid may be seen busily pulling and carrying the stuff. I cannot ascertain, however, that the hen birds, as stated by Mr. Boyes, of Beverley, in a recent letter to Mr. J. H. Gurney, junr., ever lay their first eggs on the ground, except in cases where the nest has been destroyed or the birds driven from their first site just as the female was ready to lay. The foundation of the nest is, in most cases, composed of dried fodder from the 'rands,' provided for their use, but supplemented by reeds, rushes, and other coarse herbage of their own collecting, and added to more or less throughout the time of incubation. The interior is composed of somewhat finer materials, mixed with their own down and feathers. Though generally high enough to escape the effects of any ordinary flood, they have been known to raise them suddenly, —either collecting materials of their own accord, or using such as the forethought of the marshmen may have supplied,— and thus, by a marvellous instinct, as in the case recorded by Yarrell, anticipate an extraordinarily high tide. At such times- both birds are employed in the work, the male collecting materials and its mate arranging them and shifting her eggs. The process, as observed by Rich on more than one occasion, appears to be as follows :—The fresh stuff is piled up on one side of the nest, and having been roughly laid with the bill, is flattened down with the crown of the head; the eggs are then carefully rolled on to the higher surface by means of the head and beak, the under part of the lower mandible being inserted under each, and the same course is then adopted on the other side; and lastly, having raised the centre in proportion, the eggs are returned to their proper position. The eggs are not, however, exposed during all this time, but are covered at intervals by the female to keep them warm, and this even when the waters are rising rapidly.
"The Swan's nest, from its ample dimensions, is always a conspicuous object, whether placed amongst the rank herbage on the river's bank, at the mouth of a marsh drain, or on the little islands and reedy margins of the broads themselves; and from the summit of that littered mass the sitting bird commands all approaches, whilst her mate keeps guard below. To my mind an old male Swan never looks more beautiful than when, thus ' on duty,' he sails forth from the margin of the stream to meet intruders ; with his head and neck thrown back between his snowy pinions, and every feather quivering with excitement, he drives through the rippling water, contenting himself, if unmolested, with a quiet assertion of his rights, but with loud hisses and threatening actions resenting an attack. When the young, too, under the joint convoy of their parents, have taken to the water, the action of both birds is full of grace and vigour, and the deep call-notes of the old pair mingle with the soft whistlings of their downy nestlings. What prettier sight presents itself upon our inland waters than such a group disporting themselves in the bright sunshine of a summer's day, when the pure whiteness of the old birds' feathers contrasts with the green background of reeds and rushes, and the little grey cygnets on their mother's back are peeping with bright bead-like eyes from the shelter of her spotless plumes ?
This habit of taking the young on her back is not, as some have supposed, adopted only as a means of safety when crossing a strong current, but is a method of brooding her young on the water, very commonly practised by the female Swan whilst her cygnets are young, and she will sink herself low in the water that they may mount more easily. Whether at the same time she gives them a ' leg-up ' by raising them on the broad webs of her own feet, I cannot say positively; but this is not improbable, since a favourite action in Swans is that of swimming with one foot resting upon the lower part of the back, the sole of the foot being uppermost. . . . Swans pair for life, build a fresh nest each season, and, if left unmolested, will keep pretty close to the same locality. . . . Young hen birds do not lay till their second year, some not until the third or fourth, and commence by laying from three to five eggs. . . . Commencing with five eggs, the same bird will lay from seven to nine the next season, and in the following year from ten to eleven, being then at her prime at four years old. . . . Incubation usually occupies five weeks, or about a week longer should the weather be very cold; but if the eggs prove addled, the hen will continue sitting for seven or eight weeks, or till driven from her nest by the marshmen. . . . Whilst the female is laying her full complement of eggs— which she does at the rate of about ten eggs in fourteen days—the cock takes charge of and broods them in her absence, often most reluctantly resigning his post on her return."
Except that the wild Swan nests later than the tame bird, the breeding habits of the former do not seem to vary from those of the latter. The number of eggs laid varies from five to eight. In shape, the eggs are rather pointed at both ends ; the shell is rather rough, but has a fair amount of gloss. They differ from the eggs of the Whooper and Bewick's Swan in being of a greenish grey colour. They measure about 4.6 in length and about 2.95 in breadth.
The adult bird has the whole plumage pure white. Young birds are pale brown. They complete the change into pure white plumage when they are about fifteen months old.
The bill measures about 4.2 from the forehead to the tip of the nail of the upper mandible, but the edge of the fore head is not always clearly defined; from the eye to the tip of the nail about 47 ; from the gape to the tip of the nail about 3.8. The wing measures about 23. The tail is between 9 and 10 in length, and much pointed, the distance between the tip of the outermost feather and the tip of the middle pair of feathers being nearly 4. The tarsus is about 3.8 and the middle toe, with claw, about 6.
The adult male has a knob at the base of the upper mandible. The adult female has a similar, but smaller, one. Young birds have no indication of a knob.
Adult birds have the bill orange-red, except the knob, the skin between the eye and the bill, an elongated patch on the nostril, the nail and margins of both mandibles, and the base of the lower mandible, which are black; the irides are brown ; legs and feet black.
In young birds, the orange colour of the bill is replaced by fleshy grey or pale buff, which frequently turns to a blackish colour in dry skins.
The total length of an adult bird is about five feet. The weight of Indian-killed birds has varied from 13 to 19 lb.; but tame birds in Europe are said to reach a weight of 30 lb.
I now give a brief, but sufficient, description of the Whooper and Bewick's Swan. Both these Swans have the bare skin in front of the eye yellow, and they ought not to be confounded with the Mute Swan, in which this part is black.
THE WHOOPER (Cygnus musicus), when adult, is entirely white. The bill is partly yellow and partly black. If a point be taken on the bill about an inch from the forehead, and another on the margin of the upper mandible about half-way between the gape and the tip, and these two points be joined by a line which will be found to pass through the posterior angle of the nostril, then this line will represent the junction of the yellow of the base of the bill and the black of the front half. The length of the upper mandible from the forehead to the tip is about 4.1; from the eye to the tip, about 5.2 ; and from the gape to the tip, about 4.1. There is no knob or swelling at the base of the upper mandible. The wing measures from 23 to 25 1/2 ; the tarsus about 4.3 ; and the middle toe and claw about 6.7. The tail is rounded, the distance between the tip of the 'outermost feather and the tip of the middle pair of feathers being about two inches.
The young bird is of a pale brown colour; but white feathers soon begin to show themselves. According to Count Salvadori, the bill is first of a dull flesh-colour, the tip and the lateral margins black; later, black with a reddish orange band across the nostrils, and with the base pale greenish white.
BEWICK'S SWAN (Cygnus bewicki), when adult is entirely white. The bill is partly yellow and partly black, but the two colours are not distributed in quite the same manner as in the Whooper. The yellow is of much smaller extent, and is confined to a patch on either side of the base of the upper mandible, reaching back to the eye, but failing to reach the nostrils. The two patches sometimes meet on the ridge of the mandible, and that part is often yellow, or mixed yellow and black, for a distance of about three-quarters of an inch from the forehead. The length of the upper mandible, from the forehead to the tip is about 3.7 ; from the eye to the tip, about 4.3; and from the gape to the tip, about 3.6. There is no knob or swelling at the base of the upper mandible. The wing measures about 21; the tarsus about 4 ; and the middle toe and claw, about 5.8. The tail is rounded, the distance between the tip of the outermost feather and the tip of the middle pair of feathers being less than two inches.
The young bird is pale brown, and it becomes white in the second autumn. Intermediate specimens have a mixture of white and brown feathers. The base of the bill is paler yellow than in the adult.
About thirty years ago, Swinhoe described a Swan from China under the name of Cygnus davidi. His description of the bird is very imperfect, but the colour of the legs and feet is stated to be orange-yellow—a remarkable character.