For many, it's one of Ottawa's first signs of spring.


The city released 10 of its 12 royal swans at three locations on the Rideau River for the 2009 season Tuesday.


Officials gathered for the release of the mute swans and Australian black swans at Brantwood Park, Brewer Park and Dutchy's Hole. The two remaining swans will be released at a later date.


"The annual release of the swans is another rite of passage to spring and summer in Ottawa," said Councillor Diane Deans, chair of the Community and Protective Services Committee, Tuesday.


"These majestic birds have become a local treasure over the years. Visitors and residents alike stop and take in the beauty of these elegant swans swimming along the riverbank."

Those using the river are always glad to see the swans, Deans said.

The birds are descendants of the dozen swans that Queen Elizabeth II presented to the city as a gift to mark Canada's centennial year in 1967, said Christine Hartig, who has been caring for the swans for 22 years. The swans, which make the Rideau River their home from June to October each year, are kept at a facility on Leitrim Road over the winter. Although swans can go outdoors in the winter, they need access to open water, which they can't get when the river freezes over, Hartig said.

The release of the swans is something a lot of Ottawans look forward to, Hartig said. "I get a lot of calls about them this time of year."