Some swan features


We have two indigenous species of swans here: Tundra and Trumpeter. But, neither species lives here permanently because they winter to the south and breed to the north. We see them frequently as they pass through, for they are both large and are highly visible on the open waters of lake and stream. Ten to twenty years ago, the most common swan seen around here was the Tundra; for some time recently, it has been the Trumpeter.

Distinguishing between the two of them can prove difficult. Although they are different in  size and breed in different places, when seen in isolation, they look very similar. David Sibley has written a web page on Distinguishing Trumpeter and Tundra Swans <> which has guided some of the observations below. But, all the illustrations are from recent Trumpeter Swans. This has been a good year for Trumpeters, so much so, that these features will be spread over two postings.

After the age of two or three, most adult swans travel in pairs. They usually mate for life. 

The swan’s plumage is all white… well, not always. The orange/brown staining on the head and neck is from the iron-rich water that they feed in. Both Tundra and Trumpeter Swans can experience this.

Swans sleep on water or land usually at night. These two are napping during the day. 

A careful look at these five swans, shows four grey ones and one white one. The juvenile grey would have vanished about two months earlier in Tundra Swans. By mid-January virtually all Tundra Swans have acquired some white scapulars, while Trumpeters are still in full juvenile plumage. This picture was taken on February 10. These are Trumpeters.

A juvenile Trumpeter with mottled plumage flies behind an all-white adult.

And they fly off. 


This entry was posted in birds. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Some swan features

  1. Karen Pidcock says:

    Thanks for the informative and beautiful imagery.

  2. Bob Stubbs says:

    Are the swans one sees at this time of year on the Slocan River near Slocan City and on the Kootenay River near Thrums just passing through and not actually wintering? They seem to be there for the winter.

    • Alistair says:

      Bob, I knew the swans at Thrums were infrequent transients, but was less familiar with swans on the Slocan River so I asked Gary Davidson. He assured me that on the upper Slocan, swans tend to remain there all winter. However, both groups head north to breed in the summer.

  3. Cynthia says:

    I like the heart shaped tenderness evoked by the adult swan pair in your first photo.

    • Alistair says:

      Cynthia, a pair of swans like this have been speculatively credited as the origin of the heart symbol. Alas, it does not appear to be the actual origin.

  4. Sheila says:

    I love all the photos, but wonder if you hear them too. If so, do they sound like a jazz band tuning up?

  5. Douglas Thorburn says:

    Or do they sound like a pipe band playing jazz? Ha, ha.

    On a more serious note, all beautiful photos Alistair but the last one is somehow magical!

Comments are closed.