, Newburyport, MA

December 6, 2012

Swan lake

'Seventh Day of Christmas' afloat in Amesbury

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY — It’s not quite the seventh day of Christmas, but residents living along the shores of Lake Gardner have been treated to the sight of a large flock of swans swimming in the water over the past few weeks.

Bruce Georgian, who lives on Unicorn Circle along the lake’s shore, said he noticed seven of them swimming off Lake Gardner Beach last week and immediately thought of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” folk song.

“Seven swans a-swimming,” he said.

While seemingly a sign that Mother Nature is in a festive mood, the presence of swans on Gardner Lake has actually become a more common occurrence over the past few years. Georgian said he has seen swans on Gardner Lake in each of the past three years, and there have been other reported swan sightings on the Parker River, too.

According to Steve Grinley, who runs Bird Watcher’s Supply and Gift in Newburyport, the birds tend to move in during the early winter to stay ahead of the cold and will frequently take up residence on bodies of water where there is ample vegetation to feed on.

“They’re a non-native bird here,” Grinley said. “But they do populate some areas; sometimes we see them wintering around here.”

Georgian said he first spotted the swans on the lake three years ago. This year, the flock has steadily been growing. At first there were only two swans on the lake, then four, and now there are at least eight.

“I don’t know what it means, maybe they found it, maybe there are more swans in the world,” Georgian said. “For all I know, it could all be one family.”

The swans on the lake are all mute swans, which Grinley said is the most commonly seen species in New England. The birds mate for life, and like other swans, they are very large, mostly herbivorous and known to be territorial, particularly in defense of their eggs.

Even though the swans lay their eggs in the spring and summertime, Grinley still recommends that bird watchers keep their distance.

“They’re like any other wild bird,” Grinley said. “Keeping your distance is always a good idea, especially if you’re photographing them.”

Beyond the factors of migration and feeding, the arrival of the swans could be looked at as a holiday symbol.

The swan is considered an emblem of beauty by many cultures, and also as a symbol of love and fidelity thanks to each pair’s apparent life-long relationship.

In regards to “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” there is some debate over the significance of the swan. Many Catholics argue that each gift in the song represents a Catholic symbol, and that the seven swans represented the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Others argue the lyrics have no meaning at all.

From a purely economic standpoint, the swans taking up residence in Amesbury could be seen as a convenient excuse to save a whole bunch of money, too. According to PNC Wealth Management, a swan is the most expensive item in the “The Twelve Days of Christmas” carol, fetching $1,000 apiece.

That means if someone living on Lake Gardner attempted to obtain all the gifts in the song, having seven swans a-swimming out their back door would save $7,000.