The return of the Tundra Swans is one of the most anticipated spring events in southern Ontario. Seeing a group of swans flying against a blue sky and listening to the whooping noise of the flock is wonderful.
Tundra Swans are large all-white birds with black legs and feet. They have a black bill usually with a yellow spot at the base. Their wingspans are almost 2 metres and they can weigh up to 10 kilograms. Tundra Swans feed mainly on roots and tubers of aquatic plants. In the winter they also eat molluscs, mussels, and clams.
The Tundra Swan is the most numerous but the smallest of the three swan species in Ontario. The Trumpeter Swan is a native species that is slowly recovering after being extirpated in the late 19th century. It is heavier than the Tundra Swan with a different shaped black bill but the two are not easy to separate in the field. The Mute Swan is an introduced species that has a large knob at the base of an orange bill.
Tundra Swans winter on the Atlantic coast of the US and return to our area in late February through March. They arrive in large numbers and often look for fields with waste corn to feed on. Long Point, Thedford Bog near Grand Bend, Aylmer Wildlife Area and Hullett Marsh are good places to look for them. Smaller flocks often fly over the Stratford area and sometimes spend time in area fields.
The migration of the Tundra Swan is a long one. After they leave our area they head north, some to James Bay, and some directly to the Arctic coast and the Mackenzie River delta. On the nesting area the adults must protect the nest and the young from a host of predators including foxes, weasels, bears, gulls, ravens and eagles.
This spring be on the lookout for Tundra Swans when you are out on the trail or driving the back roads. Seeing and hearing them will lift your spirits.