swan love

Swans are magical creatures surrounded by many tales and legends – not least because of their pure white plumage and effortless grace. Said to be the transformed souls of virgins, swans are considered in many cultures symbol of beauty and wisdom, though in others they are seen a harbinger of doom for sailors on land. On Valentine’s Day it seems particularly appropriate to mention Aphrodite, the god of love, who is often depicted in the company of or even riding a swan. Indeed, in some cultures it was a custom for married or engaged couples to place their rings into a swan’s nest to ensure everlasting love. The reason for this is that swans are one of the few bird species (along with the graylag goose and the common raven) to keep the same partner throughout their lives; ‘divorces’ between swans are very rare. Their courtship ritual is relatively discrete and is mainly characterized by the heart-shape pose (picture), in which these otherwise distant birds become unusually close. Even though swans (to be precise, mute swans) are a common sight in Austria, they are not native to this region and can be traced back to several collections of exotic birds held in Central Europe during the baroque period. It was not until the 20th century that they became more widespread.

© NHM Wien, Kurt Kracher, Josef Muhsil