printed on Giclée Hahnemühle German Etching
Swans are the largest of the waterfowl family, and are among the largest flying birds. There are six species of Swan several whose wingspan can reach over 3.1 m (10 ft).
These beautiful birds are generally found in temperate environments. Four (or five) species occur in the Northern Hemisphere, one species is found in Australia, one extinct species was found in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands, and one species is distributed in southern South America.
The Mythology of the Swan is rich and can be found across many cultures. Almost uniformly they are a powerful symbol of life’s beautiful determination to carry on despite continued struggles. They are birds of ‘purity’ grace and strength.
In Graeco Roman tradition it is thought that ’Nemisis’ is born from a swan. The name Nemesis is related to the Greek word νέμειν, meaning "to give what is due" from nem- "distribute”. The goddess who enacts retribution against those who succumb to hubris (arrogance before the gods). Another name is Adrasteia, meaning "the inescapable".
In Germanic myth the Valkyries had the power to transform into swans. They were warrior goddesses, bringing victory to one side and defeat to the other, deciding which warriors could enter Walhalla (version of heaven) after death.
In Hinduism, they are compared to saintly persons whose chief characteristic is to be in the world without getting attached to it. The Sanskrit word for swan is hamsa and the "Raja Hamsam" or the Royal Swan is the vehicle of Goddess Saraswati which symbolises the "Sattva Guna" or purity par excellence. "Viveka" i.e. prudence and discrimination between the good and the bad or between the eternal and the transient. Similarly in Vedic literature, persons who have attained great spiritual capabilities are sometimes called Parahamsa ("Supreme Swan") on account of their spiritual grace and ability to travel between various spiritual worlds.
Although formerly abundant and geographically widespread, swans numbers and distribution were greatly reduced during the early fur trade and European settlement of North America (1600s-1800s), when prized for its skins and primary feathers. It was estimated astonishingly there were only 69 individuals in 1935.
Numbers thankfully steadily increased with conservation, including protection from shooting, habitat conservation and management. A 2005 continent-wide survey of the United States found a substantial 34,803 individuals in the wild.
In the UK Swans have fared far better though certainly not without trouble. The population is very healthy here, perhaps due to better protection of this species. Lead poisoning on lowland rivers has been an issue in the past but largely solved by a ban on the sale of lead fishing weights. Pollution in waterways including plastic bag injuries and other waste is a substantial danger. Most other injuries or fatalities involve hitting power lines or in the well monitored case of Bewick Swans (WWT) occur during dangerous migration between the UK from northern Russia. Along their 3,500km route between breeding and wintering sites there are predators, illegal and rampant shootings as well as far fewer wetlands..