The Swans of Cranbrook

For many decades, Kingswood Lake was graced with the elegant beauty of imported mute swans. Mute swans (which have orange beaks and a distinctive nob on their forehead) are not native to Michigan or even North America. Around 1870, mute swans were imported from Europe to the U.S. to adorn city parks, zoos, and large estates. In 1919, the first pair of mute swans was introduced to Michigan in Charlevoix County and by 2010, there were more than 15,500 mute swans throughout the state.

While white swans are visible in Cranbrook photographs as early as 1931, we do not know if these were imported European mute swans. The first pair appears to have arrived at Cranbrook in the early 1950s, and by 1955, a news article described eight new arrivals as a “majestic flotilla of white swans.” They joined the “old-timers” who were less than pleased with the newcomers, and in fact, spent a good deal of time hissing at them with outstretched necks.

Swans on Kingswood Lake, 1953. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

Mute swans (which are not really mute) feed primarily on water plants, and can eat up to eight pounds a day! This large appetite for aquatic vegetation can reduce wetlands for native wildlife species. Since swans must have open water at all times in order to survive, Cranbrook Foundation staff either had to open up ice for them, or provide a waterfowl shed for safety. The shed was equipped with a deep bed of straw and a large tub of water.

Waterfowl Shed, 1999. Courtesy Cranbrook Archives.

While swans are highly intelligent, they can sometimes attack people–especially those who come close to their nesting habitats. At Cranbrook, there are no reports of swans endangering people, but there are reports of swan endangerment. Several times over the years, swans, especially the  cygnets, were killed by dogs on campus. In 1974, Robert Bowen (then director of the Institute of Science) appealed to Cranbrook to help minimize the risks to swans and allow the parent birds to raise their young as unencumbered as possible. This meant making sure that the swans had a clear path to the middle of the lake in order to escape from predators.

Swan to ‘duck’ limelight at Cranbrook. Oakland Press, Jul 20, 1980.

While it is not known exactly when mute swans were first introduced at Cranbrook, nor when the last pair was purchased, we can say with certainty that they share in our storied history and continued to survive at Cranbrook for more than forty years.

Leslie S. Edwards, Head Archivist

 

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2 thoughts on “The Swans of Cranbrook

  1. Hi Leslie — yet another fun Kitchen Sink; always a light-hearted punctuation at the end of the week. Nice to read about the Cranbrook Swans; next time I visit and see swans I’ll think of this!

    Like

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