There are three different white swans seen in our area: the tundra, the mute and the trumpeter.
The tundra swan, the smallest of the three at about 14 pounds, is only seen in the early spring as it migrates from home way up north in tundra country.
The mute swan, an introduced species and an undesirable bird, weighs in around 22 pounds. It has an orange bill and is often seen with its wings raised over its back and the neck lain back on those raised wings. This bird, which was introduced from Europe, is a beautiful bird but very aggressive, especially during nesting season. Mute swans have been known to attack people and will kill or chase away other waterfowl in their territory.
All swans have “elbow spurs” on their wings and will use them to beat a victim as they hold on to them with their powerful bills. Mutes are very aggressive with this tactic. I know of one fellow who raised them who actually got his arm broken by one and another who had one draw blood on his leg, through his pants, when it attacked him. At present the state is trying to get rid of this invasive species as the population has started growing.
The trumpeter swan is more of a western, Alaskan and Canadian bird that weighs in at about 23 pounds. Trumpeters are beginning to show up in the east now and we have had a pair nesting in the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge for the past few years. They are distinguished from the mute swan by their black, more tapered bill. These birds are not aggressive and seem to adjust to people around them quite well.
I say that because, for two years starting at the beginning of 2000, a special program was set up with trumpeters here in New York state by a doctor from Virginia. The idea was to teach them to fly with ultra light planes and then teach them to migrate in the fall from the Alabama swamps to Chesapeake Bay for the winter. Anyway, I was quite involved with that project and often got to work and handle the birds.
This big white bird can get up to 30 pounds and have a wingspan of 10 feet. It is considered our largest flying bird. There is a debate as to whether the trumpeter swan was ever native to the eastern United States but he has been expanding his range.
About four years ago I was frequently seeing a trumpeter swan in our “swamp” in the summer with wing tags K93 on him. Research showed he had been wing-tagged in Canada and must have taken a shine to our area on his migration. The next summer he returned with a mate to nest in Cayuga Pool and raise a family. They returned again to nest the following year and are nesting again this year.
This spring I have been seeing seven other trumpeters besides the original pair and believe these are the offspring from the past few years. Will they too eventually nest here? I think so. However, that may be a while, as trumpeters usually take five to six years before they mate.
Trumpeter swans generally mate for life and can live for more than 20 years. The eggs, usually four to six, are laid on a nest made of plant material, usually on top of a muskrat or beaver house, a mound of floating debris or a small island. “Our” pair started incubating just recently and it will be about 35 days before they hatch. Usually we don't see the young until later in the summer when they are traveling more with their parents.
I have been seeing those seven immature swans quite frequently this spring at various area in the refuge and the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area, so keep your eyes open.
The ultra light plane project ended up being a failure, but not because of the swans. They flew right off the ends of the plane's wing every time up and it was quite a sight to see. They seemed to love flying with the plane and it was a thrill for me to be involved. Unfortunately, an early winter set in and then it was too dangerous to fly with ultra lights, so a complete migration was not made and the project was finally dropped.
But guess what: A pair of Canadian trumpeters picked up the ball and we are enjoying them.
Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or email@example.com .