Known for being silent or alternatively not-so-musical for most of their lifetime, their musical utterances at the moment of death have been suggested as the origin of the swan song legend.
Much for the delight of ornithologists, this melodious rare winter migrant birdie- “whooper swan” is the new winged guest at Pong Dam Lake wetland this winter.
A pair of whooper swans was spotted in the Nagrota Suriyan on January 29. The bird has been a rare migrant to India and has been recorded at Pong Dam for first time, while in India it was last recorded a century ago in 1900.
“We recorded a pair of the whooper swan (pronounced as hooper). It was a chance discovery and we have taken some photographs of the bird as a proof,” said assistant conservator of forest (wildlife), Dharamsala, DS Dhadwal, adding that “the bird is a rare migrant to India and it normally migrates from Central Asia and Europe”.
“The last record of this bird, shot on the river Beas is by EH Aitken in 1900 before that AO Hume has mentioned the bird in his notes on Swans of India in 1878,” said Dhadwal.
Meanwhile, Dhadwal told that this was the 418th bird species to be recorded at the Pong Dam wetland, 417th being the “Ruddy Breasted Crake” recorded only last month.
The reappearance of the whooper swan, with distinctive long thin neck and yellow bill, at the Pong wetlands has attracted the attention of ornithologists.
"As soon as the news about the sighting of the swans flashed, the official present at the Pong Dam preparing the ongoing two day avian count race, got a number of enquiries from bird lovers across the country," Dhadwal said.
The Red Data Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature – a compendium of species facing extinction – has put the whooper swan in the least concern category.
Amongst the heaviest flying birds, whooper swan has an average body weight of 9.8-11.4 kg for males and 8.2-9.2 kg for females, and has extremely large range. It prefers shallow freshwater pools, lakes, marshes and swamps.
Whooper swans require large areas of water to live in, especially when they are still growing, because their body weight cannot be supported by their legs for extended periods of time.
The whooper swan spends much of its time swimming, straining the water for food, or eating plants that grow on the bottom. Despite their size, whooper swans are powerful fliers and can migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles to their wintering sites in southern Europe and eastern Asia.
The whooper swan is the national bird of Finland and is featured on the Finnish 1 euro coin.