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Its plumage was pure white everywhere except on the top of the head, where some faintly rust-coloured tips to the feathers appeared. Its total length (stuffed, and hence uncertain) was 3 feet 11 inches; wing from carpus 20 inches ; bill above, from point to forehead, 3 inches ; bill to eye 47 inches; yellow colour on bill extends from the forehead to within half an inch of nostrils; tarsus 47 inches; middle toe and nail 44 inches.
When in Shanes Castle demesne with my ornithological friends, Wm. and Richard K. Sinclaire, Esqrs., on the 10th of February, 1837, three of these swans appeared on Lough Neagh, not very far from the shore, where they kept swimming so long as we could give attention to them ;—for half an hour. Their size, carriage, &c., satisfied us that they were C. Bewickii, as in these respects they exactly corresponded with the two individuals in my friends' aquatic menagerie at the Falls : the yellow marking of their bills was quite apparent when they were viewed with the aid of a pocket telescope. They did not seein intent on any object, but kept moving over the water very leisurely, never stooping their necks for food; yet the large space traversed by them in this listless manner surprised me. They appeared of a pure white colour, from which circumstance, they, as wild creatures, looked strange and beautiful as the sun shone brightly on them.
On the 19th of January, 1839, I purchased a swan of this species, which was shot on that morning by a person awaiting the flying of wigeon, about daybreak, near Comber, and a mile distant from Strangford Lough. It was accompanied by two others; the shooter described the three as coming “whistling" over him.
Its total length was 3 feet 94 inches; bill, from forehead to point, 3 inches 6 lines, and from rictus to point 3 inches 4 lines; wing, from carpus to end of longest quill 19 inches 9 lines (2nd quill longest, 3rd longer than 1st, which exceeds the 4th in length); tarsus 3 inches 9 lines; middle toe and nail 5 inches. The forehead is rust-coloured ; the cheek slightly so ; the under surface faintly tinged with the same hue, so as to appear like soiled white; 19 tail-feathers. Weight 11 lbs. It was ascertained to be a male on dissection; the stomach, in addition to sand and minute pebbles, contained a number of seeds.
Early in February 1839, a Bewick's swan was shot near Coleraine, and came under my inspection at a bird-preserver's in Belfast. It was in full white plumage, and the first adult one killed in Ireland, that I had seen. This bird was very large; the wing, from carpus to end of longest quill, was 224 inches; bill, from forehead to point, 3 inches 5 lines; from eye to point 4 inches 5 lines; rictus to point 3} inches ; tarsus 33 inches, and in some parts of a brown, in others of a black colour ; middle toe and nail 5ă inches. A gentleman resident at Portumna, situated near the river Shannon, and Lough Derg, one of its expansions, told me, in 1839, that wild swans are often there in winter : he had observed them in the course of three successive seasons. On showing him two stuffed specimens of C. Bewickii, he stated with certainty, that those which had been killed were not of larger size, but that they differed in having a greyish tinge over their plumage ;-consequently they were young birds. Another gentleman, once resident at Portumna, supplied me with information to the same effect, and mentioned his having seen three grey wild swans which were shot there.
In the month of October 1840, I saw, at Florence Court, county of Fermanagh, a living Bewick's swan, that had been there for about ten years, and which was wounded in the neighbourhood. This bird was at first placed with a pair of tame swans, but they would not keep company with it. That the stranger might have the advantage of some society, it was considerately placed with a flock of common geese, which welcomed it as a friend, and thenceforth they became associated together ;-in the midst of a flock of these birds, this swan first attracted my attention.* The Hon. J. L. Cole informed me at that time, that previous to the four preceding winters, he had annually seen small flocks of wild swans on Lough Macnean—a fine and extensive lake within three miles of Florence Court,-and occasionally observed, at the same view, two flocks, each consisting of six or seven individuals. Arthur Young remarks, in reference to Lough Erne, in his “ Tour in Ireland,' under date of August 17, 1776 :-"Large flights of swans sometimes appear here in winter.”
A Bewick's swan, wounded on the Shannon, in the middle of February 1841, was procured there by Colonel Jones, of the Board of Works, and presented by him to the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland. It was received at their garden on the 18th * About two years afterwards, it met with an accidental death.
of that month.* On the 19th of February in the same year, a fresh specimen of C. Bewickii was kindly sent to me from Dublin by the Earl of Enniskillen. Two of these swans, as mentioned by Dr. Burkitt, of Waterford, in November 1841, are in his collection-a young bird shot at Kilbarrey Bog, outside the liberties of Waterford,--and an old one from Clones, county of Monaghan : the years in which they were killed are not stated. On the 1st of February, 1844, a Cygnus Bewickii was obtained in Wexford Harbour; three or four more accompanied it.t
On the 5th February, 1845, two of these swans, which had been killed on the Shannon, were on sale in Dublin market. I Within the preceding few weeks, the C. Bewickii had been met with in the counties of Wexford and Roscommon. On February the 17th, 1845, five wild swans—three old and two young (the latter, grey)—were seen, for about six hours, by H. Bell, wildfowl shooter, on Ballymacarret Bank, Belfast Bay, within half a mile of the town. He passed in his boat, with a mounted swivelgun, at less than a hundred yards' distance, without their regarding his proximity, or leaving off their feeding for a moment. Ile could easily have got a shot at them, but feared they might be tame swans. They were eventually frightened away by his firing at wigeon close by, when they rose to a great height in the air, to an elevation that he imagined would carry them over the range of mountains between this locality and Lough Neagh, in the direction of which they proceeded. This fowler, as well as others, some years ago saw a flock of about eighty wild swans in Belfast Bay, where they remained some days, and were fired at, but without effect. On the 19th February, 1845, the Marquis of Downshire mentioned to me that four wild swans had, for the last three weeks, frequented one of the artificial lakes in Hillsborough Park, his seat in the county of Down.
* December 1849.— This bird is still living here. It was placed on a pond with a pair of Polish swans (Cyg. immutabilis), a male black swan, and several kinds of geese, with all of which it seems to live quietly and contentedly, though not so fanniliar with visitors as the others. The black swan coupled with it on two successive seasons, but there was no produce. Its voice is a single, sweet, metallic note, repeated at short intervals.|| † Mr. Poole.
Mr. R. Ball.
§ Mr. R. Davis | Mr. R. Ball
December 16, 1849.—When walking along the new Antrim road, about a mile from Belfast, to-day, which was fine and mild for the season, with dark and heavy clouds impending about the mountains, I saw a flock of six wild swans for a considerable time. At first they came in view above the town reservoir, and then went in the direction of Devis mountain, beating about all the while as slowly as they could fly. The day was of such a kind that only their back and the upper surface of their wings showed white when these happened to be turned towards me; otherwise they were wholly in shade, and appeared quite dark; so much so that, at first sight, they were imagined to be wild geese. Their snowy plumage, thus occasionally seen aloft in the air, in strong contrast with the lurid masses of clouds, had a singular and even grand effect.
Since 1837, when the fact was mentioned that Bewick's swan is much more common than the hooper in Ireland, I have found it to continue so (1849). In addition to my own observation on the subject, Mr. R. Ball considers that four-fifths of the wild swans brought to Dublin market are C. Bewicki. A similar proportion, too, occurred in Connaught, to Mr. G. Jackson, gamekeeper, as of about forty or fifty wild swans killed there by him during several winters, all excepting five or six were of this species. It is the only swan which has been observed on the coast of Kerry, where it appears in very severe winters.*
Mr. Blackwall, in his ‘Researches in Zoology' (p. 171), gives a most interesting-in part, affecting--account of the attachment of a pair of these birds.t
THE TAME OR MUTE Swan, Cygnus olor, Gmelin (sp.), is not known to have occurred in a wild state in Ireland, though it is believed to have occasionally wandered to Great Britain, from its native abode in north-eastern Europe. The date of its introduction to the more western island is unknown to me. Smith, in his ‘History of Cork’ (1749), remarks that—"The tame swan is frequently met with near gentlemen's seats on their ponds and reservoirs."
* Mr. R. Chute, December 1849.
† It is copied into Yarrell's work,
Since childhood, this bird has been well known to me from being kept on our own and on friends' ponds; but I do not feel satisfied that anything I can say on the subject is worth relating. The period of the male becoming bold varies of course with the season. A relative notes him as being so at Wolf-hill, at the end of January in 1832, and not until the beginning of March the following year, when the entry appears—“Swan getting bold; turned on me in the yard.” The boldness is sometimes continued late in the season, though quite uncalled for in defence either of mate or progeny. At a very spacious sheet of water in Belvoir Park, near Belfast, whither, on the 9th October, I once went to ascertain what species of the smaller bivalve shells it produced, I was at that late period as savagely attacked by one of these birds as I could have been in the breeding season. On endeavouring, at various parts of the lake, to ply the tiny net, my enemy always boldly met me, though occasionally having to use his wings along the surface of the water. Eventually, finding that he was determined to be “sole monarch of all he surveyed,” I was obliged to forego my intended pursuit, rather than incur any risk of injuring the bird in self-defence.
The boldest swan I ever saw was one kept at Wolf-hill for many years. When any person appeared within 100 or 150 yards of his pond in the breeding season, he hurried, half flying, to assail him, and as boldly attacked horses as men, rushing up and striking them about the hind legs, to the astonishment of their riders; fortunately for the swan, they always dashed forward when struck, instead, as we might expect, of trying the effect of their heels against the assailant. *
On the subject of nidification, &c., it was noted by a relative at the same place, in 1833—“Our tame swans had their nest this spring as usual beneath the hovel at the side of the dam : the male bird carried the
* The Cygnus Bevickii, as already mentioned in reference to the individuals which have come under my own notice, is gentle at all periods of the year. I have had no opportunity of observing, for any length of time, the habits of the great wild swan (C. ferus). But one of these birds, which has been kept without the company either of its own or other species, at Seaview, near Belfast, for the last few years, was remarked to call for the first time in the season, on the 26th of February, 1850, which it continued to do for some days afterwards, when I was informed of the circumstance. It likewise became so far bold as to advance to the banks of the pond and leave the water, to march confidently up to a person walking there. This bird had before, open-billed, pursued children who ventured on the banks of the pond (which is large), so that they had to be forbidden to go there.