I cannot let February pass without once again mentioning one of my favorite winter visitors, the tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus). This year we, according to my unscientific survey, seem to have more swans here in Big Valley CA than we have had since 2013.
Tundra swans breed in the Arctic tundra. Mid-range migrants, these swans move south in the winter. Generally, tundra swans that breed in Western Alaska spend winters from Vancouver Island to Northern California, east to Southern Idaho and along the Colorado River. These are the birds usually seen in our area. The Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast are the usual winter destination of tundra swans that summer in Eastern Alaska through the Canadian tundra.
Except for the summer breeding season, tundra swans stay in flocks. In the winter swans sleep on the water.
Tundra swans eat mostly plant matter – tubers, stems and the leaves of aquatic vegetation, growing winter crops such as winter wheat, barley and rye or leftover seeds from agricultural lands. Big Valley with its winter crops and flooded wild rice fields provides perfect habitat for these graceful waterfowl.
The single tundra swan was photographed at Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge (Siskiyou County CA) while the swans in the flock picture were enjoying the flooded rice fields near Nubieber CA (Lassen County). The swans with the grey necks and heads are juveniles. Note that a couple of the swans have a yellowish color around their bills caused by digging around in the mud as they search for food.
Before long the tundra swans will depart for their summer homes in the Arctic.