Cygnus Olor - Mute Swan Couple's Mirror Image | Kings Park, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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Artist's Description

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Cygnus
Species: C. olor
Binomial name
Cygnus olor

The total native population of mute swans is about 500,000 birds at the end of the breeding season (adults plus young), of which 350,000 are in the former Soviet Union. The largest single breeding concentration is 11,000 pairs in the Volga Delta.

The population in the United Kingdom is about 22,000 birds, as of the 2006–2007 winter, a slight decline from the peak of about 26,000-27,000 birds in 1990. This includes about 5,300 breeding pairs, the remainder being immatures. Other significant populations in Europe include 6,800-8,300 breeding pairs in Germany, 4,500 pairs in Denmark, 4,000-4,200 pairs in Poland, 3,000-4,000 pairs in the Netherlands, about 2,500 pairs in Ireland, and 1,200-1,700 pairs in Ukraine.

For many centuries, mute swans in Britain were domesticated for food, with individuals being marked by nicks on their webs (feet) or beaks to indicate ownership. These marks were registered with the Crown and a Royal Swanherd was appointed. Any birds not so marked became Crown property, hence the swan becoming known as the “Royal Bird”. It is quite possible that this domestication saved the swan from being hunted to extinction in Britain.

Populations in western Europe were largely exterminated by hunting pressure in the 13th–19th centuries, with the exception of semi-domesticated birds maintained as poultry by large landowners. Better protection in the late 19th and early 20th centuries allowed birds to return to most or all of their former range. More recently in the period from about 1960 up to the early 1980s, numbers declined significantly again in many areas, primarily due to lead poisoning from birds swallowing discarded fishing sinkers made from lead. After lead weights were replaced by other less toxic alternatives, mute swan numbers increased again rapidly. Read more

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