The word swan has derivations in Old English, German and Dutch, which in turn was derived from the Indo-European root “swen” (to sound , to sing), whereby Latin derives "sonus” (sound). Young swans are known as ‘cygnets’ from the Latin word for swan, ‘Cygnus’.
While the term cob for an adult male, comes from middle English cobbe (leader of a group); an adult female is a pen. Pen is also derived from the Sanskrit root ‘pet’ to fly, coming from the Latin ‘penna’ for feather. The heraldic plume referring to the use of long wing- and tail-feathers on crests and other heraldic devices: at this point my classic lessons cease – in this post at least!
Swans are amazing creatures – they are the largest members of the duck family and are among the largest flying birds – reaching a length of over five feet (nearly 2 metres) and weighing up to 50 pounds. Their wingspans can be almost 10 feet (3 metres), while compared to the closely related geese they are much larger in size and have proportionally larger feet and necks.
The largest species include the mute swan, trumpeter swan and whooper swan – the mute swan I posted on their royal connections in my recent story on Swan Upping. The whooper swan is also called the tundra swan denoting its wintering ground. Generally they are found in temperate environments, rarely occurring in the tropics, and they do not occur in Africa.
In South America they have evolved to become the Black-necked Swan their largest native waterfowl, but which is smaller than its white or black cousins on the other continents. They are widespread and common throughout the southern part of South America, and fortunately are able to find wetland sanctuaries throughout the region.
The black swans found in southern Australia are mostly black feathered birds, with white flight feathers, and having a bright red bill. It is also smaller than its northern cousin, and is unlike any other Australian bird.
The Australian black swan is the musical swan with a far reaching bugle-like sound, called either on the water or in flight, as well as a range of softer crooning notes. It can also whistle, especially when disturbed while breeding and nesting.
All swans are attractive birds so no wonder they have been used in heraldry throughout the aeons, epochs, eras, and recent times. They feature in mythology – Greek, Norse, Irish, Finnish – in Latin American literature, in fables – The Ugly Duckling; they are revered in Hinduism, and are compared to saintly persons whose chief characteristic is to be in the world without getting attached to it, just as a swan's feather does not get wet although it is in water ... and many many other tales – for another day ...
Thank you Mr Postman for delivering this short story to my mother – I’m off to see some friends who migrate too – spending half the year here and half in South Africa .. so I’m having a quick visit to catch up on the South African news and just generally have twenty four hours away .. not long – I’m going near Goodwood .. yesterday’s post ...
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