Tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) breed on the high tundra across North America and winter in the more temperate areas of the continent, particularly along the coasts. During the winter we are fortunate to have these beautiful waterfowl visit the grasslands and wetlands where we live in northeastern California.
Last year Leonard and I saw our first returning swans on November 9th. This year they still have not appeared near our home. On November 24th Leonard and I were at Eagle Lake (Lassen County CA). Far down the shore I noticed two white objects. Curious, I investigated and discovered the white lumps were two tundra swans. I was surprised because tundra swans are usually in small flocks during the non-breeding season.
The two swans were either sleeping or resting. Cold, tired, lazy – for whatever reason they would look at me, stand, sit back down and tuck their heads again. Finally I did move close enough to invade their territory and the two swans ambled into the water and swam off.
Tundra swans feed on the roots of aquatic vegetation by plunging their neck into shallow water and pulling the vegetation from the bottom. (Swans also eat mollusks.) The necks and heads of these pure white birds with black bills and legs often look yellowish or rust color because of the ferrous minerals in the marsh soils where they forage.
Tundra swans are also called whistling swans because of the noise their wings make as they fly. I do not know if I would call it a “whistle” but their wings do make a distinctive sound as they fly.
Now that at least two tundra swans are back at Eagle Lake, which is about 70 miles from our house, Leonard and I expect to hear their distinctive calls and see these graceful birds near our house soon.