English Swans: The Queen’s Birds

english swans
Cygnet siblings relax on the back of their mother.

Strolling along waterways and meres in England’s cities and parks one is bound to see the easily recognizable “Mute Swan”; the adults is full-fledged white and has an orange-red bill with black base.

This usually quiet white bird likeness has being depicted in everything from graceful Russian ballets (most notably Swan Lake, which tell the tale of Odette, a princess that was cursed and transformed into a swan by von Rothbart, a malevolent sorcerer) to European folklores and fairy tales.

Russian dance from Swan lake - Svetlana Uvarova
Alejandro Virelles as prince Siegfried & Alina Cojocaru as Odette dancing in English National Ballet’s dress rehearsal of Swan Lake at the Palace Theatre, Manchester on October 07, 2014. Photo: Arnaud Stephenson

Regarding the swan population throughout the United Kingdom, it is frequently asked “Does her Majesty really owns all of the swans? The simple answer is yes! Technically, The Queen owns all the unmarked/unclaimed swans in open public spaces in both Wales and England. This has been law since medieval times. The Worshipful Company of Dyers share ownership of the swans with the Crown, and is in charge of directing census of all the birds in the River Thames and its environs.

Queen’s Swan Warden, Royal Swan Uppers
The Queen’s Swan Uppers (front, right), on the Thames. The skiffs neared the swans during the event (Swan Upping).

Each year during the third week of July, for five days, a ceremony is held called “Swan Upping”, which is specifically aimed at keeping track of and examining the birds.

The British Monarchy’s website states, “The swans are also given a health check and ringed with individual identification numbers by The Queen’s Swan Warden. The swans are then set free again.” Besides the Warden, in charge of the health and well-being of the swans, all year-round, are Royal Swan Uppers and the Swan Uppers of the Vintners‘ and Dyers’.