Monday, December 03, 2012

Trumpeter Swans

On November 10th, I was visiting my Mom in the nearby city of Enderby. We went for a drive to Salmon Arm and on our way there, just before turning from one highway onto another one, in a big field where corn was grown this summer and harvested this fall, we saw a lot of big white birds feeding.  Of course, being the driver, I pulled over to get a good look and to hop out with my camera and take some photos.  My first thought was that these birds were swans, though I did later wonder if perhaps they were some sort of white geese, since they did sort of remind me of the Canada Goose.  When in doubt, GOOGLE IT!  Once I was back home to my computer again, I did a Google search and found that these birds are Trumpeter Swans. 

If I had been alone with time my own, I would have driven to different location so I could get all the birds and field into one shot and without the hydro/phone lines, though with Mom along and needing to be somewhere, I just took shots where I could get them.  I don't know how many birds are in this field, though I would say well over 200 of them.  Not only are there all the Trumpeter Swans, there are also Mallard Ducks feeding among the swans. 

Yesterday, I was visiting my Mom again and happened to notice a photo in the local newspaper of the field full of swans.... but the caption called them white geese.  This called for further investigation on the internet.

The "Hinterland Who's Who" website tells much about the Trumpeter Swan, it's breeding and feeding habits, where it lives, etc. Under "Description", it says:

Adult Trumpeter Swans Cygnus buccinator are large birds with white feathers and black legs and feet. The feathers of the head and the upper part of the neck often become stained orange as a result of feeding in areas rich in iron salts. The lack of colour anywhere on the swans’ bodies distinguishes them from other white species of waterfowl, such as snow geese, which have black wing tips.

The male swan, or cob, weighs an average of 12 kg. The female, or pen, is slightly smaller, averaging 10 kg. Wings may span 3 m. Young of the year, or cygnets, can be distinguished from adults by their grey plumage, their yellowish legs and feet, and until their second summer of life, their smaller size.

The shape and colour of the bill help in identifying the Trumpeter and Tundra swans in the field. Trumpeters have all black bills; Tundra Swans, formerly called Whistling Swans, have more sloping bills, usually with a small yellow patch in front of the eye. If this patch is missing, it is quite difficult to distinguish between the two birds unless the voice is heard. At close range, an observer should look for a salmon-red line on the lower bill.

Now, if you look at some more of my photos, you will see these birds do not have the black wing tips of the Greater Snow Goose, nor do they have that goose's "pinkish feet and bill".  (To see larger views of any of the photos, just place your mouse on a photo and click, then click on the different thumbnails to see the larger photos.)

Notice the Mallard Duck (male) in this photo.  It appears very small compared to the size of the swan.

Note the Mallard Duck (female) in this photo, again giving an indication of the size of the swan.   The Trumpeter Swan is even larger than the Giant Canada Goose, which can weigh up to 8 kg.

Though you can see the bills in most of these photos, I find this one has the best view of the shape of the bill.  These grey birds are the young Trumpter Swans that have not yet gotten the white feathers of the adult.

Photos I copied from the "Hinterland Who's Who" web site:

The shape of the bill of the Trumpeter and Tundra Swans.
(You can see the bill is the same shape as the birds I photographed last month.)

My home over looks Swan Lake which apparently was named from having swans on it.  In over 22 years, I have not seen even one single swan on this lake. In fact, in my 50+ years of life, I have never seen swans that were not in parks or zoos.  When I read the Hinterland article I discovered why this is:  Europeans hunted and harassed the swan to the point where in 1933 there were only 77 Trumpeters breeding in Canada and 50 breeding in the United States. Today, as a result of an intensive international conservation effort, there are about 16 000 wild Trumpeter Swans, and the species is no longer considered in danger of extinction. 

Except for people, wild Trumpeters have few natural enemies. ......  The most serious threat to the continued well-being of the Trumpeter Swan is the loss of habitat resulting from expanding human populations.

Now you can likely understand my excitement and joy at seeing this flock of over 200 Trumpeter Swans.  I hope to one day see some back living and breeding on Swan Lake.

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