Even though they have long been seen as a symbol of beauty and elegance, there is something a little threatening about swans. They are impressively big, rumored to be really strong, and if you take a peek into their beak you see something that is quite unusual for a bird.
Do swans have teeth? No, even though it looks like it, so the confusion is understandable! They belong to the family of Anatidae, which includes other water birds like ducks, and geese, and as such their beaks have serrated edges that look like teeth. These are used for holding on to algae and catching slippery aquatic creatures like fish and frogs.
While these so-called lamellae are thus used in the same way as teeth are, they are made from the beak itself! Something that differentiates the “teeth” of Anatidae from real teeth is that they do not have enamel, the protective layer that covers the teeth of humans and other mammals. They consist of cartilage, but that does not mean they are soft and flexible – a sharp bite can even draw blood.
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Swans can be quite aggressive, especially when defending their nests. This means it is better to steer clear of swans during spring nesting season, that is, between April and June. An adult swan can weigh up to 28 pounds and have a wingspan of almost 8 feet, and having a vengeful bird of this size come towards you is a sight not easily forgot!
Luckily, the often-reported rumor that a hit from a swan’s wing can break your arm, turns out to be a myth. The bones inside their wings are thin and mostly hollow – which is necessary for birds to fly – so that they do not carry enough strength to break the significantly thicker and larger human bone.
A UK swan sanctuary elaborates that breaking an arm could be theoretically possible if a swan in full velocity hit an elderly person or a child – all in all, a not very likely scenario.
In general, swans also tend to give a warning before going into full attack mode. They will swim or run towards the perceived threat while hissing and busking, the latter being a threat display in which the swan partly raises its wings and curves its neck back.
Do All Swans in England Really Belong to the Queen?
A lot of things one hears about the Royal Family sound like the plots of an elaborate parody. Why should the Queen of England need, or even want swans? Is she about to conquer the rest of the world with the help of an avian army? Hopefully not!
But yes, the reigning monarch has the right to all unmarked mute swans in open water in England and Wales. Mute swans are the species native to Eurosibiria – they are not actually mute, but a bit less talkative than other swan species.
This right goes back to the 12th century. Back then, swans were extremely valuable and used to be served at royal banquets. The monarch as the owner had the right to select the most delicious-looking ones. Today, as a protected species, swans are no longer being eaten.
Apart from the Queen, only three other organizations in England are allowed to own swans. The Abbotsbury Swannery has owned this right since the 14th century, and since the 15th century, also the Vintners and Dyers are allowed to own swans – two of the 110 Livery Companies, a group that consists of London’s trade associations and guilds.
These companies indicate their swans by marks on their beaks – any swan without a mark belongs to the Queen by default.
Another English swan tradition that has survived centuries is the annual swan-upping ceremony. Every summer, the swans on the River Thames are caught, round up, ringed, and released again. While the ceremony is largely symbolic, like most things connected to the monarchy, it is also a good opportunity to monitor the conditions of the swans on the river.
Aside from swans, the Queen also, theoretically, owns all whales, dolphins, porpoises, and sturgeons. This means that any of these animals that are caught within three miles of the British coast has to be offered to the Queen as a gesture of loyalty before the fisherman can keep it. Even beached whales have to be offered to the Queen before they can be disposed of.