Swan conundrum

I drove upriver today. Things were quiet, not even the big Canada Goose flocks I saw last time. But up near Fort Miller, I saw two white shapes in with a hundred geese. Much too large for Snow Geese. Mute Swans?


Three swan species inhabit North America. Mute Swans were imported from Europe, intended to decorate park ponds. They took off and became an attractive nuisance, aggressively chasing off native waterfowl and incautious picnickers. They are easy to distinguish with gracefully curved neck, wings arched over the back, and a mostly-orange beak.

The two native swans are Trumpeter and Tundra, challengingly similar at a distance. Trumpeter is a bit larger, Tundra often has a bit of yellow on the lores (the area between the beak and eye), and if the bird is calling their voices are distinctly different. But when seen from across the river? A tough call.

So I crowd-sourced it to my birding group. Opinions varied, but another birder photographed a pair of swans in the same area a few hours earlier, that were very distinctly Tundras complete with yellow spot. It seems reasonable that two swans, just a short while after, in the same location, would be the same birds, right? So tentatively, and subject to better intel, I’m saying that local species #201 is Tundra Swan. *


*And if they do turn out to be Trumpeters instead, that’s cool too. Still local #201.**


**And then there’s the debate about whether Trumpeters are “officially countable” or not. As an introduced species — or is it re-introduced? That’s a whole ‘nother question — they haven’t been breeding in New York long enough to be on the NYSOA checklist. Whatever. It’s a hella cool bird, the world’s largest waterfowl, and was effectively extinct in most of North America by the beginning of the 20th century. Breeding programs helped bring it back from the brink, and the population is showing a steady increase. They’re still troubled by habitat pressure from territorial Mute Swans, and like most dabblers are also very susceptible  to lead poisoning.


And yes, I did reach my stretch goal! How many more will I see?

Categories: bird behavior, Bird photos, Field trip, NYS 2013, OMG bird, Rara avis | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Swan conundrum

  1. I think the chances are that they are Tundra. We have noted here in southwestern Ontario that they have been migrating through here. Actually we have quite a number that over-winter here on Lake St. Claire (one of the Great Lakes) and also on Lake Erie.

  2. That’s great, 201, wow! There’s something cool about it being a swan that made your stretch goal. Congrats.

    My favorite lake last year had two sets of mated mute swans, each bringing four cygnets through their first year. This year, one pair has had four survive thus far. The other pair has had all seven cygnets thriving. We’re going to be overrun next summer by mute swans. The other swan varieties don’t stand a chance here, sadly.

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