Royal Baby Watch: Pregnant Kate Middleton, Prince William Await As These Special Birds Are Counted

Category: Media & Culture / Jul 15, 2013 7:26PM EDT

The Queen is awaiting the birth of her great-grandchild and heir to the throne from Prince William and his wife Catherine, but on the River Thames counting of royal babies of a very different kind began on Monday (July 15).

The annual Swan Upping, or swan census, sees the Queen's Swan Marker and his helpers row traditional wooden skiffs up the Thames counting the swan babies or cygnets.

The historic ceremony dates back some 900 years to the 1100's, when the Crown claimed ownership of all wild swans.

Back then it was normal for people to eat swans, now they are protected and preserved, as The Queen's Swan Marker David Barber explains: "It dates back right to the twelfth century when swans naturally were then eaten, it was a very important food source, served up at banquets and if you were very wealthy you actually owned swans, Of course, swans are no longer eaten and now it is all about conservation and education," he said.

The swan markers spend five days rowing upstream along a 79 mile stretch of the Thames. All swans and cygnets they spot are weighed, measured, tagged and checked for any injuries.

Fishing wire caught in young throats is often the biggest threat to the cygents' lives.

"I suppose the most common injury we have is fishing tackle and we do loose around 30-40 percent of all the young cygnets through fishing tackle injuries," said Barber.

In the mid 1980's there was a serious decline in the swan population which was halted by the replacement of lead fishing weights with a non-toxic equivalent.

However growing demands for recreational use of the river by anglers and boat users has resulted in an increasingly hazardous habitat for the swans.

In recent years duck virus enteritus killed many breeding pairs and last year's floods washed away many nests and vulnerable cygnets.

The rains were so bad in 2012 that the Swan Upping (so named because the boats row up stream and lift swans up out of the water) could not take place. This was the first time in hundreds of years that the ancient tradition did not take place.

The previous census in 2011 counted 114 cygnets, belonging to 30 families along the stretch of the Thames between Sunbury and Abingdon, in the area where Windsor Castle is situated.

Today the Queen retains the right to ownership of all unmarked swans in open water, but in reality she only exercises her ownership on certain stretches of the Thames and its surrounding tributaries.


Video Credit: Reuters