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Have You Upped a Swan Today?

Well, have you? This is the official week for it, after all. Get out there and up those swans!

All right, I’ll settle down now. Swan Upping is the traditional census-taking of Mute Swans on the River Thames, wherein swans are rounded up, checked for bands or banded, and released. The king or queen of England, by ancient law and custom dating back to the Middle Ages, owns all unmarked swans in England. And since the twelfth century or so, the swans who live on the Thames have been counted and marked by the Royal Swan Upper to enforce that ownership (though two ancient groups, the Worshipful Company of Vintners and the equally Worshipful Company of Dyers also have some swan-related rights and participate as well.) Swans were once reckoned something of a delicacy, after all, and having one on your banquet table was a status symbol that the Crown thought ought to mostly belong to it.

Of course, no one today, even the monarch, eats swans. Even so, the annual Swan Upping is still carried out, though today it’s more a matter of monitoring the mute swan population’s health than making sure the peasants aren’t eating above themselves. While there’s still some ceremonial involved in the form of natty uniforms and rowing skiffs, the actual handling of the swans is managed by the Royal Swan Warden, a professor of ornithology from Oxford University. And yes, it’s not completely an odd holdover from the past: Swan Uppings in the 1980s revealed a drop in population that was found to be caused by swans swallowing lead fishing weights. The weights were banned in the Thames, and the population happily rebounded.

So…happy Swan Upping week!


3 thoughts on “Have You Upped a Swan Today?”

    1. They’ve settled extensively around where I live. I concur with the explanation of the name being that they’re not QUITE as loud as trumpeter swans (and yes, it’s a breed thing.)

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