The White Swans of Sweden

 I've been a late discoverer of the beauty of birds as it wasn't until about 5 years ago when I moved to a seaside suburb in Melbourne, Australia that I got to know them close up. I lived near a protected wetland that had breeding sacred ibis as well as black swans, herons, egrets, spoonbills, cormorants, pelicans, stilts and many other birds living there. It was dazzling.
Up until then I was an occasional admirer and I think for quite a few years I was a little afraid of them. Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds' has a lot to answer for. I don't know. But since then a whole new world has opened up. The bird world. 
I find them endlessly inspiring especially those that live in or around the water. Here in the northern climes of Sweden I've discovered the beauty of the white swan which aren't common in Australia. There's 4 (or 5) species in the Northern hemisphere. I've only managed to photograph 2 so far.

I took the above photo and the next during winter in Stockholm a year ago. We were walking around the island of Djurgården one Sunday, (in the heart of the city amazingly) and these swans sailed past us. Didn't recognise them at the time but later found out they were whooper swans. In the photo it looks like 2 adults and 3 juveniles. Harmonious little family. They breed in the far North but usually migrate to open waters in north-west Europe ie. Britain as the ice melts. These birds may have been on their way south and stopped here. They blend into their environment perfectly I think.

Whooper swans. Their necks are so straight it's funny. Like periscopes.

The photos following are all of mute swans. This mother and her 6 babies (cygnets) we discovered in Hagaparken, Stockholm during spring 2010. Swedes are real birdwatchers so there was quite a crowd watching. They finally got sick of us all and sailed away.

Mute swans are about the same size as Whooper swans but you can easily tell the difference as their bills are orange-red with a prominent black nob. I was surprised with how close the juveniles stay to their mother the whole time. The male preened himself on shore.

A family of mute swans at Hagaparken, Stockholm. Perhaps heading back to their nest-a large bed of reeds.
Why are the swans white?
Well according to Norse mythology there were two swans that drank from the sacred Well of Urd in the realm of Asgard, home of the gods. According to the Prose Edda, the water of this well was so pure and holy that all things that touched it turned white, including the original pair of swans and all others that descended from them. The poem Volundarkvida, or the Lay of Volund, part of the Poetic Edda, also features swan maidens.

At the moment there's a hugely popular movie called 'Black Swan' playing at the cinemas. My mother said said she and my aunt felt disturbed after they saw it. Who knows?  I haven't seen it yet but the classic 19th century ballet 'Swan Lake' is the centrepiece of the film. We saw it performed recently by the Royal Swedish Ballet in Stockholm and it was absolutely superb. Having observed swans since I've been in Sweden I can really understand how they inspired the creation of this ballet. They are such beautiful looking birds and the way they all move in unison is readymade for a corps de ballet.

Mute swan at Drottningholm Slott. Waiting for the Stockholm ferry last summer in Drottningholm this swan aggressively swam around us hoping for some food. He was such a beautiful serpentine shape and such a bright white that I had to take a picture.

You can't help but impose your own ideas and assumptions onto birds and animals based on the way they look. This swan just looked so graceful and peaceful in the water on a summer's day at Lake Mälaren. But swans can actually get quite aggressive. Especially over territory. Sound familiar?

Swans are a romantic and dramatic symbol in many nordic cultures. In the Finnish epic Kalevala, a swan lives in the Tuoni river located in Tuonela, the underworld realm of the dead. According to the story, whoever killed a swan would perish as well. Jean Sibelius composed the Lemminkäinen Suite based on Kalevala, with the second piece entitled Swan of Tuonela (Tuonelan joutsen). Today, five flying swans are the symbol of the Nordic Countries and the whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus) is the national bird of Finland.

I've learnt a lot from animals and birds in my life. One important quality they've taught me is patience. They can all teach you something. Even spiders. Next time an unusual animal, bird or insect comes into your orbit (repeatedly and especially if you don't like it) ask yourself what are they teaching me? Look at their major attributes. Compare those attributes to your own honestly. Do you need some of those attributes in your own life? If you do, try to start expressing those qualities yourself. You may find that the annoying creature disappears!

My beloved black swan. They're native to Australia.


  1. Beautiful pictures! I love birds too, I learnt so much about wildfowl while volunteering at London Wetlands Center. Theres so much we can learn from nature and animals!

  2. Thanks Sy glad you liked the photos. The London wetlands center sounds like a great place to volunteer. Were you there long? It's the sort of place I'd like to volunteer. I might check it out the next time I go to London.

  3. We have a lot of swans in England - including the Black Swan. I didn't realize it was native to Australia - good to know :)

    I’d love you to add a post to my expat Linky Party on March 19th. Hope to see you then, if not sooner :)

  4. Your blog is really wonderful Happy Homemaker. Great idea too the expat Linky party.


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