Introduction to the Trumpeter Swan
The trumpeter swan is a beautiful fowl, known by the pure white coloring of the body and head, juxtaposed black bills that lie flat and black legs that blend with the bill. The largest of the waterfowl in the United States, they display a bold red line that separates the upper and lower mouth. Their long necks enable them to bellow a deep trumpeting call that sounds like a deep tenored horn, with a bit of a squeal.
The trumpeter population is vegetarian. They search below the surface for plant leaves and stems and are able to rip up hidden roots and shoots hiding on the bottom of the lake. Trumpeter swans will feast among waterweed, sago pondweed, water milfoil and duck potato. New cygnets dine on water beetles, at least until they are five weeks of age. Cygnets add some smaller crustaceans to their meals as well. At five weeks, they have switched over to a complete vegetarian diet.
Due to the reduction in population of the trumpeter swan because of hunting, loss of habitat, power line collisions, illegal shooting, and lead poisoning, they have been returned to various areas in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Ontario to save the species. There are plans to add the species along the Chesapeake Bay area as well, relocating the trumpeter to the east coast.
If we begin with the trumpeter swan, we find the Cygnus buccinators in the Pacific coastal region, with approximately 15,000 birds in population, that migrate southward toward the Columbia River region. The Rocky Mountain population of trumpeters, with a population of approximately 2,500 birds, flock together in two different groups. A flock that maintains the regional habitat hangs out around the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana and a Canadian flock joins them in the winter. The interior population of swans includes about 900 birds, which also houses the trumpeter swans east of the Rockies and is the result of thirty years of reintroducing the birds to the area.
The summer finds the swans swimming in the swamps, marshes and shallow lakes that are forested. They tend to find the human visitors and their noisy tendencies rather annoying, so they vacate the area. During the winter months, swans need to follow food sources and dining through icy waters is impossible. Flying to areas that host sheltered coastlines and estuaries, they can create their perfect winter vacationing spots.
Trumpeter swans find their true love in a mate and stick with him or her for life. The courtship ritual begins at about two or three years of age. This process begins during the colder winter months. A graceful, synchronized swimming routine starts, with some bubbles blown in the water and a duet singing of songs. Once they have courted, the two will not begin to nest for a year or two.
Once they are "married", the two newlyweds begin searching for their new home. While the ice is still on the ground, the couple will settle in to a good home and begin the claim staking process of ensuring the property is suitable. There are ample supplies of food, lush vegetation, privacy for the newlywed couple, and plenty of room for those early morning and late night landings. If all is well in the area, it will become the place to start a new family.
Settling in right away, the female chooses the perfect spot for her cynets. The two swans pitch right in to clean up the site from the previous year or build their own from scratch. The couple build a moat around the nest. This entails ripping plants out by the roots to clear the land. Nests are large and traditionally can be about 8 1/2 feet across, with a height of about 132 feet above the water's surface.
After laying her eggs, the incubation period starts. Just how many babies can a white swan have? The female will lay between 3 to 9 eggs which are off-white in color. Incubation lasts about 34 days. The loyal mother will only leave the nest for a short period of time to eat, while the guarding father sits close by the nest to watch for predators.
When the cygnets have hatched, they begin to cry for parents with their fluffy pale gray down blowing in the wind. After a day or two of help from mom and dad, the kiddies are now off to find their own food. Both parents give the cygnets their freedom, however will stand close by to help them break off some of the harder vegetation. Quite a few of the babies will not last through the winter months and some may perish by parasites, not enough food or will be attacked by enemies. Families lose about half of the clutch each year.
With a brown coating, the feathers of the cygnets begin to fully appear. At about 15 weeks, the weight has picked up to approximately nineteen or more pounds. Flying lessons for the babies begin, as the weather is turning colder, lakes are freezing and they will need to get to warmer grounds.