This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
Swan (Cygnus sp.). The common mute or tame swan (Cygnus olor) is the only species which is permanently resident in Britain. The nest is constructed of reeds and grasses, and is generally situated near the edge of the water in some islet. The eggs are large and of a greenish-white colour, and number six or seven,
Fig. 148. - The Common Mute or Tame Swan.
The young, called "cygnets,' when hatched and for some time afterwards, are of a light bluish-grey colour. The parents are very jealous of their nest and young, the male being mostly at hand during sitting, and fierce in repelling intruders. The food consists of vegetable matters chiefly, but it also includes various water mollusca, Crustacea, annelids, insect larvae, and the smaller fishes; and there is no doubt that fish spawn forms a dainty morsel of these birds, also of geese and ducks, which thus destroy large quantities of valuable material.
The swan, admitted emperor of majestic appearance and bearing on water, has been protected from a very early date by both legal and regal interference, they being declared to be exclusively "royal" or king's property, and no subject allowed to hold possession of these birds save under special favour from the sovereign, the ownership being denoted by a "swan " mark, that of the crown, and of the Dyers' and Vintners' Companies taking place on the first Monday in August, the mark being cut in the bill. The crown mark consists of five diamonds, that of the University of Oxford an arrangement of crosses, Cambridge of three buckles, whilst the Vintners' Company mark these birds with a double chevron. In Henry VII's reign the theft of a swan's egg was deemed an offence punishable by a year's imprisonment, and the theft of a swan itself was very severely punished.
Cygnets, or young swans, are still regarded as a royal dish, they being prepared for King Edward VII's table by his swan keeper at Hampton Court, thirty-six of the cygnets in the Thames being fattened in each year for use at His Majesty's table at Christmas, cygnets having been a royal delicacy for many years past. The birds are selected from those hatched in the Thames during the year: the swans on the river being owned by the King and the Vintners' and Dyers' Companies, and are kept several weeks in a wired-in enclosure on the Thames, where they receive special diet to fit them for table use. Of course, all the cygnets are not consumed at the King's table, some of them being sent as presents by King Edward to other royalties and personal friends of His Majesty.
No greater ornament exists on a lake or river than the swan, and in utility it is to deep water in destroying bottom growth of weeds what the duck effects so well in shallow water by keeping the surface free from duckweed, etc. The swan, including the black swan (Cygnus atratus), an Australian species first discovered in 1698, is kept in many ornamental waters; but it is not advisable to introduce swans to water planted with water-lilies (Nympheas), as they are apt to pull the plants to pieces, or to plant water-lilies in lakes inhabited by swans.