White Swans of Northam

Brief History

White swans of Northam, Western Australia The first White Swans were introduced to Australia during the 19th century. In 1896 the White Swan was introduced into Western Australia by a British colonists. In the early 1900's, it is believed a Russian settler and the town's mayor, Oscar Bernard, introduced White Swans to Northam . Surprisingly, the Avon River in Northam became the only place in Australia where the newly introduced bird survived and today it is still the only place in Australia where White Swans breed naturally in the wild. There are about 80 swans on the Avon River and a new breeding programme is under way to help replenish the many aging birds. The White Swan became a protected species in 1950 under the Department of CALM Wildlife Conservation Act. This means it is illegal to remove a White Swan from the wild, keep a swan as a pet or release a swan into the wild without the appropriate license. The swan is a protected species and in Northam they are cared and watched over by local volunteer Swan Warden.

White Swans (Cygnus Olor)

White swans of Northam, Western Australia The white swan (Cygnus olor) originated from Europe and Asia.The White Swan enjoys eating water plants, fish, frogs, insects and a crustacean or two. They can weigh up to 15kg and will deliver a nasty bite and a whack with their wings if provoked. When a male swan (a cob) and a female swan (a pen) become partners they remain monogamous through out their lives. The female swan can lay up to twelve eggs during each breeding season and it takes between 35-40 days for the eggs to hatch.

Though White Swans in the northern hemisphere migrate to warmer climates during the winter months, in Australia (Northam) they stay happily along the Avon River. This is due to the mild winter weather conditions and the abundance of food.

Myths and Legends About Swans

Swans have long been a popular bird on coats-of- arms and are often shown wearing a collar and chain around their neck (gorged). This has been linked to the German "Legend of the Knight of the Swan" (Lohengrin) in which a knight travelled in a boat drawn by swans.

A "Swan Song" is poetically used when describing the last performance of a great artist. The figure of speech dates back to ancient times when it was believed that a dying swan would burst into song before taking its last breath. Symbolising its joy at knowing it was about to meet its master. Poets and dramatists, such as Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare and Byron, perpetuated the myth through their works.

In Greek legend it was believed that the soul of Apollo (god of music and poetry) was passed into a swan and hence the souls of all good poets are also passed into swans (Pythagorean fable).

Swan-upping is a term used when branding a swan's beak as a mark of ownership. The term is mainly used for the marking of swans on the Thames in England. Royal swans are marked with five nicks, two lengthwise and three across the bill.

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