They used to be considered mythical creatures — until explorers to the Antipodes sent back reports of genuine black swans.
And this week has seen a steady stream of visitors to Belfast’s Waterworks Park keen to see the black swan that has taken up residence there.
This magnificent young bird is unlikely to have winged its way all the way from Australia to Northern Ireland, but has probably escaped from an exotic collection, or is the descendant of an escapee.
Park manager Liam McKinley said the sighting was reported by the park ranger on Tuesday while he was on his regular patrol of the Waterworks.
“It’s the first time ever that the Belfast Waterworks has had such a distinguished guest.
“It’s somewhat of a celebrity — there has been a steady stream of visitors looking to take photos and gape at the beautiful bird,” Liam said.
Unfortunately, the juvenile black swan has got on the wrong side of the mating pair of mute swans that make their home in the upper lake. “The male has been bullying it,” Liam said.
While black swans were brought to Europe in the 18th and early 19th centuries, it’s thought that many fell foul of superstitious beliefs linking them and other black-coloured creatures to the Devil .
Black swans were often chased away or killed, which may explain why they never established strong populations as feral birds in Europe.
Shane Wolsey from the British Trust for Ornithology said the black swan could be the same one that had taken up residence in Stranraer until recently.
“I went looking for it there about a month ago and it wasn’t there anymore,” he said.
Recent breeding bird surveys suggest there are more black swans about than anyone knew, he added.
“It’s an introduced species that has just gone wild. There are quite a lot of them dotted about throughout the UK,” he said.
“There are a tremendous number of black swans throughout the UK, far more than we anticipated or realised.”
Meanwhile, RSPB spokesperson Judith Carville said: “Black swans are native to Australia and are the State bird of Western Australia. This bird has most likely found its way to the Waterworks from a private collection somewhere here in Northern Ireland. They’re an unusual bird to see, but chances are this bird hasn’t travelled too far to get to north Belfast.”
Description: In adult black swans the body is mostly black, with the exception of the broad white wing-tips, which are visible in flight. The bill is a deep orange-red, paler at the tip, with a distinct narrow white band towards the end.
Distribution: Black swans are found throughout Australia with the exception of Cape York Peninsula, and are more common in the south of the country.