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Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan

The Tundra Swan used to be called the Whistling Swan. The Latin name, Cygnus columbianus, because Lewis and Clark first saw them on the Columbia River. This small white swan favors unpeopled, open spaces. This is why hundreds choose to winter in the Manchester Area. From October through March, they rest on the flats of the Garcia River. They feed on grass, water plants and insects. Their elegant, long necks and strong bills allow them to reach deeper than geese and ducks. By breaking up plant roots they help stimulate growth, resulting in more food for themselves and other water fowl.

Tundra Swans build mounded nests in tundra ponds and lakes. When the young hatch, they are fed aquatic insects, a richer source of protein than plant food. The abundant insects allow them to nest in the Arctic in May. They raise only one brood because of the short season. The young stay with the parents for a full year. They do not attain white, adult plumage until they reach two years.

The adult Tundra Swan was never hunted because the meat is too tough; however, the young were taken while still flightless and tender. Probably the reason they are so numerous is the tundra is so nearly impassable for humans.

The Tundra Swan is credited with the term "swan song", the sound they make when shot and falling, mortally wounded, to the ground. This might have occurred in the late 1800s when birds were shot for feathers for fashionable hats.

Swans die regularly from other causes. In 1975, five hundred swans died on one refuge from lead poisoning from eating buckshot left in the marshes. A few die each year on the northbound migration, when, on misty nights, they alight on the Niagara River and are swept over the falls in what is called the "Niagara Falls swan trap".

First published MCAS The Black Oystercatcher December 2012
Tundra Swan photo uncredited