Winter of the Swan

“There are more tundra swans this winter than ever before!”

Often this winter Leonard and I commented to each other that there were exceptionally large numbers of tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) in the area – more than either of us ever recalled seeing in past years. Last winter there seemed to be very few swans so the contrast between the two consecutive winters is particularly dramatic. When a friend said the above, I knew it was not my imagination that we were noting significantly more wintering swans.

Tundra swans, true to their name, breed in the high tundra of Alaska and the Canadian Far North, wintering along the Pacific Coast and Mid-Atlantic Coast and into Nevada and Utah. One of my winter treats is observing large flocks of these pure white birds on the nearby marshes, watching their “V” formations move overhead and hearing their distinctive calls. On dark nights I particularly enjoy hearing them pass overhead.

These photographs were taken on wild rice fields near Nubieber CA (Lassen County CA) and along County Road 91 in Modoc County CA. The tundra swan in one photograph was swimming with greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons).

Tundra swans eat seeds and roots of aquatic plants and mollusks. They forage by plunging their necks into shallow water and pulling the vegetation up from the bottom. The rust or orange heads and necks visible on the swans in the flock are stained by the ferrous minerals in the marsh soils.

Before long these graceful visitors will head north. Hopefully large numbers will return to Big Valley again late next fall.

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