Thursday, August 4, 2011
The Mute Swans of Newfoundland
Among the pleasures of bird watching this summer is the routine encounter with Mute Swans around the city of St. John's. I had thought that these swans were gifted by Queen Elizabeth II, but it seems that is not the case. Researching their origin took more time than I anticipated. I'm sure there must be a historian in town that knows the full story down through the years.
It seems that there were two Mute Swans released on the pond in Bowring Park in the early 1940s but they didn't survive due to roving dogs.
In 1946 Harry Hamlyn, Bowring Park Superintendent at the time, travelled to England and acquired six Mute Swans (three males and three females) from King George. It seems the acquisition was made possible by Cyril Bowring. I don't know what that means. Did he fund them? Did he have connections? Someone knows, I'm sure. My reading tells me that the Monarch owns all the Mute Swans and they have been given to many different locations over the years. Did we eventually have some given to the park?
Now, the last time that I saw all of the swans together in the winter quarters at Bowring Park, I counted nine. Since it is thought that the early swans in the park were all genetically related which led to the poor breeding, where did the new line come from?
Only a couple of years back, one Mute Swan was given to Corner Brook to replace one of their swans that perished. Whether there are swans in any other community in the province, I don't know.
One never grows tired of watching these beautiful birds. However, the pictures that I chose to share today speak more to their behaviour than to their looks. The first three photos show a male swan grooming. He starts in an upright position and within moments it folded itself down until it was almost flat.
The fourth photo shows a Mute Swan racing to get in on the food being offered at the wharf at Kenny's Pond. It was amazing how much speed it attained as it lowered its head between its wings and seemed to use the wings as sails as it propelled itself with its big feet under water.
The last image speaks for itself. While watching this pair, the male was cleaning up the area. He picked up a few pieces of paper trash and moved them out of the house to make the area more tidy. The absolute best time to photograph these birds is during breeding season. It is then that they often fluff up their wings and bloat up the body to look huge. Once the breeding season passes, they seem to shrink in size.
I will continue to try to gather info about the history of the Mute Swans in NL.