Cygnus olor

Mute Swan.

Cygnus olor.

Penr, Punjabi.

The only swan which visits India in any numbers, and that only in hard winters, is the well-known bird that is kept as an ornament all over the civilized world. No doubt a few come in every winter, and they have been killed in the hot weather on two occasions; but that the bird has always been a rarity is proved by the fact that Calcutta dealers have for many years imported them from Europe by the dozen, and by the fact that there is no true native name— Penr really meaning a pelican.

This swan may be distinguished from all others by the black knob at the base of the bill, but as this is little developed in the young birds, the best point to go by is the colour of the bare patch, which extends from the bill to the eye ; this in this species is black as well, whatever the age. In young birds the plumage shows more or less drab, and their bills are not of the full orange-red colour of the old birds, but some shade of grey or pink.

Although so well known as a tame bird, and well established as an " escape " breeding at large in some parts of Britain, and, doubtless, elsewhere, this swan has, for a water-bird, not a very wide range; nor does it go very far north, its true home being Central and South-eastern Europe and Western and Central Asia. In winter it visits North Africa, but does not go very far west; and India appears to be its eastern limit on its southerly migrations. And with us it only comes to the North¬west, the Peshawar and Hazara districts being the most likely ones in which to find it. The birds have generally been seen singly or in small flocks, and have shown a tameness which has been rewarded by unrelenting slaughter in too many cases—as if one such bird were not enough for a record, the species being so unmistakable.

At the same time, although swans are but rarely eaten in Europe nowadays, it may be remembered that they are edible— at any rate the grey yearling birds—which are still fattened for eating at Norwich, if nowhere else in England. In view of the occasional occurrence of these swans in summer, and of the fact that they have laid eggs when kept in captivity in such an unnatural climate as that of Calcutta, it is just possible that they may yet be found breeding somewhere in India, especially in exceptionally cool seasons. Most people know what a swan's nest is like— a huge pile of any vegetable matter the birds can get hold of, placed close to the water's edge, and, if possible, on an islet. But as the birds, to put it mildly, do not encourage examination of the nest when without fear of man, it may be as well to mention that the eggs are about four inches long, pale sage-green in colour, and number about half a dozen. The cygnets are grey normally, but now and then white ones occur; and these are white even in their first feathering, and have pale clay-coloured or flesh-coloured feet all their lives instead of the usual black or grey. Such birds used to be distinguished as a species, the so-called Polish swan {Cygnus immutabilis).

The food of these swans consists of water-weeds and grass, with some animal matter, especially fish-spawn ; in domestication they eat grain freely, but do not come ashore to seek it in the wild state apparently. In fact they do not come ashore much except to rest, generally grazing from the water, where grass on the banks is accessible; nor, though they stand on their heads to reach the bottom, do they ordinarily dive; though I once saw a small cygnet do so for about a couple of yards when attacked by a vicious black swan. This Australian bird, by the way, is more freely imported into India than the mute swan, and both species have been known to escape ; so that records, especially if of old birds, and away from the North-west, are not free from suspicion. The birds rise heavily and slowly, but fly fast, though with slow strokes, and, in spite of their awkward gait, a wounded bird has been known to run fast in hundred-yard spurts before hunted down.

This species is well called the mute swan, for though not actually voiceless, it is far more silent than other species, and its note, a grunt or a sort of suppressed bark, is not loud. It is one of the largest of flying birds, attaining a weight of thirty pounds; though the birds occurring here are not likely to weigh more than half that.

Indian Sporting Birds
Finn, Frank. Indian Sporting Birds. Edwards, 1915.
Title in Book: 
Cygnus olor
Book Author: 
Frank Finn
Page No: 
Common name: 
Mute Swan
Mute Swan
Cygnus olor
Term name: 

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