Perhaps like you I have noticed some snow geese flying overhead during the past couple weeks. I have also heard and seen a few flocks of tundra swans.
Like the geese, it is often the swan’s call that first gets our attention, and then we see them. You have to love the call of those swans. That low baritone call, variously described as an “oo” or “oh,” seems to be so full and rich. I think they make a sort of hoot.
Those big white birds are pretty impressive. About five feet long, a wing span of around six feet, and weighing in at roughly sixteen pounds, they seem to demand our attention whether they are in the air or on the water.
Occasionally they are observed feeding and resting in wetlands. They feed similarly to puddle ducks with their butts up and heads down in the water, eating aquatic plants, seeds, and tubers.
Tundra swans are native to both North America and Eurasia. Many of you probably first learned of the bird as a whistling swan, a reference to the whistling sound make by the wings as the bird flies overhead. The term is still used to refer to the North American race of the tundra swan. The Eurasian race is called the Bewick’s swan.
Like many other animals, swans were over-hunted though much of the 1800’s. As a result, their populations were quite low. Now of course their populations are doing quite well in most areas, and in North Dakota hunters can even get a permit to harvest one swan per year.
Tundra swans have rather interesting migration patterns. They breed all across the arctic tundra, and the eastern populations winter along the Atlantic coast while the western populations winter along the Pacific coast. Most, if not all of the tundra swans we see during their fall migration likely winter on the east coast (e.g. Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania). I suspect that there will be more tundra swans moving through our area yet this fall. If you have the opportunity, take the time to enjoy them when you see or hear them because once they pass through our area we will have to wait until next spring to enjoy them again.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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