You know the one: a homely little duckling is called ugly and is persecuted by its siblings and other farmyard critters, spends a winter alone and lonely, only to be welcomed by a flock of swans that arrives in the springtime because, though he never realised it, he is actually one of them, an ugly duckling that has grown into a beautiful swan.
Maybe that’s why the swan has always been one of my favourite birds. Maybe I hoped I would grow into a beautiful swan – ha! Or maybe it’s all the other amazing things about them. For example, did you know?
- A swan will mate for life.
- A swan is one of the largest flying birds, with a wingspan of more
than six feet.
- A swan can fly as fast as 60 miles per hour.
- A male swan is called a cob, a female a pen and that little ‘ugly duckling’
was really a cygnet.
- Some people are scared of swans and there are two names for that
fear, cygnophobia and kiknophobia (though the Oxford Dictionary’s never
heard of them!).
- There are many collective nouns used for swans, including a herd, a
fleet, a gaggle, a bank, a bevy, a whiteness, an eyrar, a gargle and, for flying
swans, a wedge.
Did you also know that here in the
Originally, the members of these two medieval guilds made their own marks on the birds’ beaks: one nick for a dyers’ bird and two for a vintners’. And reminders of that practice can still be seen today in pub names, like the ‘Swan with Two Nicks', a centuries-old pub in Little Bollington near Altrincham in
And now you finally get to learn why I gave this blog post the title ‘A swan with two necks’. In early English, the word ‘nick’ also meant ‘neck’, so it is also common to find a lot of English pubs called ‘The Swan with Two Necks’, not because the birds were freaks of nature but as a reference to the nicks in their beaks. Of course, inn sign-makers were able to have a field day with a name like that, and the signs on the
‘Swan with Two
Necks’, shown in the photos here, are a fine example of what a good imagination
can produce. Manchester
Since humans first flexed their imaginations, the swan has inspired artists, novelists, choreographers and composers. It appears in Greek and Norse mythology, in Irish legends and in religious scriptures. It features in heraldry, in company logos, and is the name of a well-known Australian brewery.