Who Can Eat a Swan? This Is One Wild Story

Swans, writer taking notes
An AI-generated illustration

There’s a lot of swan talk swirling around these days thanks to FX’s edgy and fascinating look into the life of Truman Capote and his glamorous high-society muses he called his Swans.

The Ryan Murphy-produced Feud: Capote vs. The Swans (beginning Wednesday, Jan. 31 at 10pm ET/PT on FX, and available next day on Hulu) tells the story of the brilliant Capote (played by Tom Hollander) and his fall from grace with his socialite friends who included Babe Paley (Naomi Watts), Slim Keith (Diane Lane), C.Z. Guest (Chloë Sevigny), Lee Radziwill (Calista Flockhart), Ann Woodward (Demi Moore) and Joanne Carson (Molly Ringwald).

Feud: Capote Vs. The Swans

Image courtesy of FX

After he penned his racy, tell-all excerpt “La Côte Basque 1965” on their privileged and scandalous lives (inclusive of adulteries, a murder coverup and bestiality), which was part of his forthcoming novel Answered Prayers, Capote’s betrayal pretty much ended his career.

American novelist Truman Capote (1924 - 1984), UK, 9th March 1966. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While a lot can be said about the eccentric famed author and these gloriously interesting socialites (and the epic cast who plays them), there’s another fascinating story and that is centered around swans (as in the fowl), and if Truman Capote actually ate a swan, in spite of the society woman he grew to hate.

Eating a swan seems only available to the privileged.

The ownership of and eating of swans (cringe) actually dates back to the 10th century and, no surprise, is associated with royalty.

No doubt because of their beauty and elegance, swan ownership was seen as a status symbol.

“Back in 1247, King Henry III was said to have feasted on 40 swans for Christmas dinner — yes, a meal that included swan was a luxury reserved for the wealthy,” reported Architectural Digest.

The tradition continued into the 1500s when the beautiful birds were a favored dish in the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Historic Royal Palaces shares: “The king ate in his private rooms, away from the crowds, but on more formal occasions he sat alone at a high covered table in his Presence Chamber, under the canopy of state. He chose from a huge buffet, sampling whatever took his fancy. Dishes included game, roasted, or served in pies, lamb, venison and swan.”

Eventually, Queen Elizabeth I took over ownership of all wild swan on open waters in England and started a tradition that holds up today where a ceremony is held along the River Thames to count the local swan population in what is known as “swan upping.” Today it’s all about conservation measures to safeguard the regal beauties.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, (Front L on boat) accompanied by Swan Marker David Barber, (Front R on the boat) in the steam launch boat 'Alaska', watches as a swan is returned to the river during a swan counting census. The Queen witnessed the ancient ritual of her swans being counted on the River Thames Monday for the first time. AFP Photo/Sang Tan/WPA POOL/Getty

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by Swan Marker David Barber, watches as a swan is returned to the river during a swan counting census, where swans are counted on the River Thames. Photo Credit: SANG TAN/AFP via Getty Images

But the queen still is the only person in the UK legally allowed to eat a swan.  Royal expert and editor Kelly Lynch said in multiple articles on the topic: “Although I am familiar with the annual swan upping, I’ve seen no evidence of the royals dining on swans.  … Since [the Queen] owns all of the mute swans in England and Wales, I find it hard to believe she’d dine on them.”

The U.S. has some swan history, too. In 1957 Queen Elizabeth II gifted the city of Lakeland, Florida, a pair of royal swans, where these swans’ descendants now total over 50 and are part of the city’s iconic culture.

HAMBURG - FEBRUARY 17: Swans, who are usually on the river Alster, are moved to a makeshift shelter to protect them from bird flu on February 17, 2006 in Hamburg, Germany. The bird flu virus was found in two dead swans which were discovered by holidaymakers on a ferry serving the island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

So where does the U.S. stand on hunting and eating swans?

First, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “It is illegal to hunt native trumpeter swans, tundra swans and non-native mute swans. Other large white birds, including American white pelicans and whooping cranes, are also illegal to hunt. Shooting a swan may result in a fine and a revocation of all hunting, fishing, and trapping privileges.”

We did touch base with a DNR expert who further shared that a handful (up to 20 per state) of trumpeter swans can be legally hunted by Native Americans in the ceded territories of northern Wisconsin, northern Michigan and northern Minnesota, but nowhere else in the Midwest is hunting of swans allowed.  There are tundra swan hunting seasons in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Alaska, and in the east in Virginia and Delaware.

A Florida waterfowl specialist also confirmed that there is absolutely NO open season for swan hunting, and it is 100% illegal to hunt or kill a trumpeter swan in Florida.

As for Truman Capote’s appetite for eating a swan … it looks like that is one of just fiction.

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November 2017

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