Photo credit: Parks Canada
You may have noticed big white birds in lakes and ponds recently who aren’t normally there. These birds are trumpeter swans.
Trumpeter swans breed in the summer time and spend their summers in northern Alberta, northern British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories among other smaller summer populations. It is believed that most breeding pairs of trumpeter swans breed for life. Both parents work together for two to four weeks to build a nest that can reach up to 3.4 meters in width and 2.7 meters in height!
Trumpeter swans will have one brood per season with four to six offspring. Offspring only stay in their nests for one day and are able to swim and eat upon leaving. They can fly in 90 to 122 days.
When the season begins to change and weather becomes cooler, these swans begin to migrate to their winter range which is located on the northern Pacific coast. While migrating, they stop at bodies of water along the way to take breaks and eat, which is why we have been able to see them more frequently near the Calgary area recently.
Here are some more interesting facts you might not have known about trumpeter swans:
- A baby swan is called a “cygnet”, an adult male is called a “cob”, and an adult female is called a “pen”.
- They are very sensitive to human disturbance and will abandon nests and cygnets if they are disturbed.
- They are adapted to live on or near bodies of water, and feed mainly on aquatic vegetation.
- They are the heaviest flying bird in North America. Males can weigh up to 11.8 kilograms (heavier than a Canada goose which can weigh up to 8.6 kilograms, and slightly heavier than a wild turkey which can weigh up to 10.9 kilograms!).
- Trumpeter swans are called trumpeter swans because their calls sound like trumpets.
- Similar species include tundra swans and mute swans, which are both smaller and lack the completely black bills that trumpeter swans have (tundra swans have a yellow spot at the base of the bill, and mute swans have an orange bill).
- These birds were nearly hunted to extinction—there were only 69 known individuals by 1935. Today, hunting of these birds is illegal. Intense conservation efforts have helped protect this species and more than 34,000 individuals were recorded in 2005.
By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC volunteer
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds. Trumpeter swan. Available at: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Trumpeter_Swan/lifehistory