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BIRDS OF IRELAND.
THE GREAT WILD SWAN.
Cygnus ferus, Ray.
„ musicus, Bechst.
Anas cygnus, Linn.
Of this species, as distinguished with certainty from Cygnus Bewickii, I have the following notes. In the winter of 1829–30, a couple, shot in Strangford Lough, two miles from Newtownards, were brought on sale to Belfast. An old male, shot on the coast of Wexford in 1830, and a young male, since obtained, within four miles of Waterford, were purchased by Dr. R. J. Burkitt, of that city, for his collection. Two birds, shot on the Wexford coast in March 1837, were sent to Dublin, where they came under
my notice in the hands of a taxidermist, who was preserving them for the museum of the Royal Dublin Society.
In the following year I saw, with the same person—Mr. W. S. Wall-another bird, which had been obtained, early in March 1838, in the Queen’s-county. He at the same time mentioned that, in the severe weather of the winter of 1837–38, eight wild swans were seen for two days in the bay, “ close to the city of Dublin.” In January 1838, a flock of fourteen appeared in the neighbourhood of Ballynahinch, county Down; one of them which was wounded, lived in Montalto demesne, until the 9th of July following, when it was killed by a dog. It was sent to a taxidermist in Belfast to be preserved, and came under my notice previous to being skinned, when the following description was drawn up :-
Length 5 feet 2 inches; bill from point to forehead 4 inches 2 lines,—to rictus 4 inches 3 lines,- from eye to point 5 inches 3 lines. Tarsus 4 inches 9 lines ; middle toe and nail 6 inches 102 lines. Tail-feathers 20 in number. Colour :-feathers from lower part of neck to vent, including those under the wings, tipped with rustcolour ; remainder of under surface (from throat to neck, and from vent to end of tail) white, with occasional faint indications of rust-colour. Feathers on sides and top of head, nape, and neck for some distance below the nape tipped with rust-colour, which is very intense on the forehead; remainder of upper surface white. Legs and feet greyish-black; upper mandible at base gamboge-yellow, which colour advances on its sides rather before the nostrils, remainder black; lower mandible blackish at sides and tip, yellowish horn-colour along centre,-short feathers covering the tibia tipped with rust.colour.
A letter from John Vandeleur Stewart, Esq., dated Rockhill, Letterkenny, September 21, 1840, informed me that he had procured there, in winter, about two years before that time, a specimen of Cygnus ferus. A description of the bird was kindly forwarded, fully proving, from anatomical as well as external characters, that it was the species named. This individual was most probably obtained in the great Anatida winter of 1837–38, when the birds of this family were remarkably plentiful on the coasts of Great Britain and temperate continental Europe. It is singular that although many more specimens of Cyg. Bewickii than of C. ferus killed in Ireland have come under my own observation and that of my correspondents, I do not possess a single note of one being met with during that winter. I shall, therefore, introduce, under C. ferus, two notes of wild swans—of which the species is not known-having been seen that season.
On the 26th of January, 1838, and for some days previously, four or five of these birds frequented Conswater, Belfast Bay; and several shots were fired at them, but without effect. Mr. Gage, jun., of the island of Rathlin, off the northern coast of Antrim, considered that for twenty years, wild swans had not been so numerous there as in the winter of 1837–38. The following note, which appeared in the Northern Whig of Dec. 10, 1842, bears upon that season :-“ For a fortnight past Lough Swilly has been visited by several flocks of wild swans. It is four years since these beautiful birds were seen in these waters ; and this year they have appeared more numerously than they are recollected to have done on any former occasion.”
In January 1841, Mr. G. C. Hyndman saw, in Coleraine, a swan of this species, which was killed with two others and twentytwo wigeon, at the same shot from a swivel-gun on Lough Foyle about the beginning of that month.
In the severe winter of 1849-50, many rare birds weré obtained in Ireland ; and during that season, as in the one of 1837– 38, the only wild swans that came under the notice of my ornithological friends and myself were the C. ferus. On the 13th of February, 1850, two of these birds were killed somewhere inland (it was said in the county Longford), and sent to Dublin. One of them (reported as being probably in its second year's plumage) was procured for the University Museum, and the other (also immature) by Mr. Glennon, bird-preserver. The tail-feathers in each are twenty in number.* t About the same time, a fine adult female of this species was sent for preservation to Belfast, by Henry S. B. Bruce, Esq., of Ballyscullion House, who, on learning that the specimen would be desirable for the collection in the Belfast Museum, liberally presented it. That gentleman informed me that this swan was shot by his gamekeeper in the heather on the borders of Lough Beg at day-break, on the 14th of February. Hearing on the previous day that a swan was on the lake, Mr. Bruce went in pursuit, and got two or three shots at it with a rifle; but being in a boat, and a stiff breeze blowing at the time, he could not strike the bird with a ball, though he did so more than once with shot, at too great a distance, however, to do much injury. Night coming on, the chase was given up, and on the following morning the keeper was sent to where the bird was last seen, when, managing to approach within fifty yards of his victim, he shot it. This swan had been about three weeks on the lake by itself, where, during the winter at an earlier period, a single bird was seen by my informant, as well as flocks of five, six, and fourteen, at different times. Lough Beg is contiguous to Lough Neagh, with which it is connected by the river Bann.
* Mr. R. Ball.
† A young wild swan, but of which species could not be learned, was shot on a pond near Dingle, county Kerry, this season.
I made the following notes on this swan previous to its being skinned. Weight 17 lbs.
ft. in. lin. Length from point of bill to end of tail . . . . . . 4 8 9 - of wing from carpas to end of longest quill . . . . 1 11 9
bill from first feathers on forehead to point
- eye to point . . . . . . . 4 11 - - tarsus . . . . .
– middle toe and nail , The black colour of the upper mandible extends from the point . 3 2 Leaving of yellow thence to forehead . . . . . The black extends, in an angular direction, from its termination on
the ridge of the bill down through the middle of the nostrils, until it strikes the base of the upper mandible at the distance from its point of
.. . . . . . . 1 9
Tail-feathers 20 in number. This bird is wholly of a white colour, excepting a very few rust-coloured feathers close to the base of the upper mandible. This is of a deep lemon-yellow towards the base, and shining black towards the point. The under mandible is black on the outer horny part, lemon-yellow down the central or fleshy portion. Legs and toes with webs of both upper and under surfaces black; nails blackish ; irides blackish ;
- the precise shade could not be ascertained, owing to the bird having been two or three days dead. On dissection it proved to be a female; the stomach was quite empty.
The following notes relate to these birds as observed without reference to species. In "A Brife description of Ireland made in this yeere, 1589, by Robert Payne," we are told that “There be great store of wild swannes, * * * * * * much more plentiful than in England.” Harris, in his History of the county of Down published in 1744, says, of Cygnus ferus, “Great numbers of them breed in the islands of Strangford lake" (p. 234); and in another part of the volume, when enumerating such of the islands as are known to him by name, and reckoning fifty-four, remarks :-“ Four of these islands are called Swan Islands, from the number of swans that frequent them” (p. 154). Smith, in his ‘History of Cork' (vol. ii. p. 351), states that “wild swans are very common in the north of Ireland, but were only observed in the south parts of the kingdom in the great frost of 1739;"—what is said of the north may be copied from Harris, as Smith's work is dated 1749.
In the month of October 1824, a flock of about fifty wild swans appeared in Belfast Bay. Captain Cortland G. Macgregor Skinner, when quartered with his regiment at Athlone, about the year 1830, saw seven of these birds (which he describes as having been nearly as large as tame swans) that were killed on Lough Ree by the discharge of a double-barrelled gun. In 1839 I learned that for a number of years past a flock of eleven came to Portlough, near Bogay, county of Donegal, early in winter, and remained during the season.* The late Mr. John Nimmo, of Roundstone, county Galway, had often observed wild swans passing over that neighbourhood on wing; and about the year 1838, he saw six or seven on Maam river, at the head of Lough Corrib, to which place he was assured the species came regularly every winter until the preceding few years, when, owing to the country having become more frequented, they had been less commonly there. Wild swans appear occasionally in flocks about
* Mr. Geo. Bowen.