Swan is a genus of birds of the family Anatidae, which also includes geese and ducks. Swans are large birds, one of the largest flying species. They spend much of their time floating on the water. They have long, slender necks which they keep arched while swimming. The Northern Hemisphere species of swan have pure white plumage but the Southern Hemisphere species are mixed black and white. The Australian Black Swan is completely black except for the white flight feathers on its wings.
Swans are strictly monogamist and mate for life. Even if a mated pair discovers that they share the same gender (swans don't have obvious sexual dimorphism, and such situation are norm), they will stay together and try to steal eggs from other swans to raise chicks. Although 'divorce' does sometimes occur, particularly following nesting failure.
For their looks and monogamy, swans are considered a symbol of purity, elegance, and sometimes femininity.
There is a motif of women who can turn into swans, particularly in Slavic and Norse mythology and Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. For example, such are Valkyries of the Norse legends. The transformation ability is often granted by a feathered garment that can be stolen, especially while the woman is bathing in a lake or a river. The thief then can demand a favor or trick the swan maiden into marrying him.
Sometimes a swan maiden doesn't reveal its true human nature until the hero fulfills several quests proving that he is good of heart. Sometimes a woman is transformed into a swan by a curse (the magnificent swan being the only shape that magic could turn this pure soul into). In any case, although the human form of a swan maiden doesn't have bird features, they are usually wise and elegant in swan's image.
In role-playing games
In Dungeons & Dragons, there are swanmays, a secretive order of swan women. They first appeared in Monster Manual II for the first edition of AD&D in 1983. They were among the new playable races in The Complete Book of Humanoids, the first D&D supplement that allowed player characters of exotic descent. In 2003, they were updated for the third edition as a prestige class in The Book of Exalted Deeds. In 2006, fans made a template that can be applied to any humanoid female of good alignment to create a playable swanmay.
Swan women in RPGs are not limited to swanmays. In the new World of Darkness, there is a swan changing breed in the image of Valkyrie. d20 fantasy supplement Frost & Fur (compatible with D&D 3.5) is in part dedicated to Slavic folklore and has a wereswan lycathrope option.
Anthro-swans are not as popular in furry art as felines and canines, but they do appear from time to time. Such characters often have zoomorphic swan head on a slender neck and wings in addition to anthropomorphic hands. Sometimes swan features are used in a griffin character.
The most famous swan in modern popular culture is Princess Odette of The Swan Princess. The movie is based on Swan Lake classic ballet. Other works of fiction which feature swans are The Wild Swans and The Ugly Duckling fairy tales.
- Braithwaite, L. W., 'Ecological studies of the Black Swan III – Behaviour and social organization', Australian Wildlife Research 8, 1981: 134-146
- Braithwaite, L. W., 'The Black Swan', Australian Natural History 16, 1970: 375-379
- Their homosexual behavior wasn't discovered until modern times.