Saturday, March 6, 2021

Whistling Swan

The tundra swan is sometimes considered to include two species, the whistling swan and Bewick's swan, but they are usually regarded as subspecies. The plumage of the whistling swan is all white and it has black legs and feet, and a black bill with a thin salmon/pink streak running along the mouthline and a small yellow spot on the black facial skin near the base of the bill in front of the eye (although it is often hard to see or absent). 

Swans that have lived near bog lakes with large amounts of iron ions get head and neck plumage that has a golden or rusty hue. Color variations are common with pink instead of yellow or black, or more or less yellow. 

Immature birds have some dull gray feathering, mostly on the head and upper neck and bills that are mostly pink with a black tip and base and dark gray feet with a pinkish hue. 
They leave for their breeding grounds in the coastal plains of Alaska and Canada by mid-March and arrive by late May. They leave for their winter grounds about October and arrive in November and December. Western Alaska birds winter along the Pacific coast down to California, some moving inland into the Central Valley  as far east as Utah and as far south as Texas and northern Mexico. Those breeding along the Arctic Ocean winter on the Atlantic coast, mainly from Maryland to South Carolina, but some as far south as Florida.  
There were an estimated 170,000 in 1990, but seem to be declining slowly in the west, but increasing somewhat in the east. 
I saw whistling swans at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in northern Utah last weekend, a first for me. Their large black feet stand out as they waddle around and seem particularly beneficial on the ice. 

They are beautiful in flight. 

1 comment:

  1. Your penultimate photo is spectacular. What I want to know is did you hear them whistle?