Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Seigneur of the Swans

Unless it has been marked for private ownership, any "mute swan" in the United Kingdom residing in open water belongs to the Queen.

I'm not sure this guy agrees:

A male "mute swan" monitors passersby on his stretch of the Forth & Clyde canal.
The Crown has claimed ownership of the "mute swans" since at least the 12th century. As a practical matter, the monarchy only exercises this ownership over swans on parts of the River Thames and some of its tributaries. Every July, in a ceremony called Swan Upping, a team of royal swan wranglers the Queen's Swan Marker, the Royal Swan Uppers, and the Swan Uppers of the Vintners' and Dyers' livery companies row skiffs up the River Thames for five days. Rather than capturing the swans for dinner as in olden days, they now take measurements and put rings on the legs of all the swans who have cygnets (i.e., baby swans) that they find during those five days.

Nowadays, the information they gather is used for conservation, including tracking by the British Trust for Ornithology. Essentially, the Swan Upping is a swan census.

When the swan ranglers sight a brood of cygnets, they cry out "All up!" to signal that their boats should get in position. As they pass Windsor Castle (one of the monarchy's homes), the rowers stand at attention, raise their oars, and cry out "Her Majesty the Queen, Seigneur of the Swans!"


{Ed.'s note: The Crown also possesses ownership of the "Fishes Royal." According to a still-valid 1324 statute passed during the reign of Edward II, the monarch "shall have . . . whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the realm." Today, any whales, dolphins, porpoises, or sturgeons captured within three miles of shore (or which wash up on a beach) can be claimed by the Queen.}

A "mute swan" is the general white swan of the United Kingdom, as well as many parts of Europe and Asia. The swan's plumage is all white. Its beak is orange, bordered by black, with a black knob on the bill. Having been introduced in the United States in the 19th century, it's now deemed an invasive species. The bird is called "mute" not because it's quiet, but because it is not as loud as some other swan species.

All white plumage, except for dirt.
We encounter mute swans all the time in Glasgow. Several breeding pairs live on our nearby stretch of the Forth & Clyde canal. A singleton lives at Lock 27, across from a pub of the same name. Kate crosses the canal every day for work. Jackson, Mattie, and I cross or follow the canal several times a week on walks.

On a winter stroll along the canal.
We're moving in to spring now. Our temperatures have increased from average highs of 40s Fahrenheit to highs of 50s Fahrenheit. Daylight lasts for 13 hours. We have more sun and less rain. Flowers peek up out of the ground.

Flowers like these are erupting around Glasgow.
As we move into spring, the paired swans are starting to lay eggs. On Kate's walk to work yesterday, she found six eggs in a swan nest. Today, she noted that someone had helpfully provided bread crumbs for the incubating mother.

Both males and females attend to the nest.
We have many foxes in the area, so the incubating pair needs to stay on or near the eggs at all times.
If she's done laying eggs they typically lay one a day then it'll be another six weeks or so before they hatch. I'm a little fearful for the clutch. Besides danger from a large number of foxes, the nest rests on the shore of the canal quite close to a sidewalk where many people and dogs pass by daily. The potential for disruption or confrontation, either before or after the eggs hatch, looms ominously.

Perhaps I'm needlessly worried. All the swans on the canal are quite comfortable with humans and dogs passing by. They'll readily approach for food, of course. But even if no food is offered, many stand their ground without concern. These royal birds do seem to rule the roost along the canal.

Unperturbed by toddler or large unleashed dog.

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