|Swans return to
By Jay V. Huner
I still remember my mother reading the "Ugly Duckling" children's story to my younger brother and me at bedtime. That was over six decades ago. I'll bet there are few readers of The Piney Woods Journal who don't recall having that story read to them.
The poor little ugly "duckling" was harassed by the other handsome ducklings. But, the sad gray cygnet grew up to be a huge, beautiful white swan, the king of the lake!
Swans are huge, don't fly fast, and are good to eat. There haven't been many wild swans in our region in more than a century.
The two wild swans that have been recorded in Louisiana are the smaller Tundra Swan and the larger Trumpeter Swan. Tundra Swans are birds of northwestern areas of our continent and rarely seen in the South. Trumpeter Swans, formerly called Whistling Swans, however, nested in the northern USA and were regularly encountered in our region in winters before 1900.
Thanks to conservation efforts, the numbers of Trumpeter Swans have increased dramatically in recent years. Now, some of these majestic native North American swans have been introduced into central Arkansas and have been reported recently in Louisiana. Those seen in the accompanying picture spent several weeks near Monroe, Louisiana in flooded timber in mid-winter in 2010.
Many birders flocked (pun intended) to see the swans to add them to their Life List of Birds, a birder's equivalent to a mounted trophy buck or bass. They made the trip to see the birds knowing that they might not "count." That is, the arbitrator of bird lists is the American Birding Association. If the swans are eventually considered to be part of the introduced flock rather than wild birds from natural breeding grounds, they won't "count!"
Our North American swans and the introduced Eurasian Mute Swan are huge white birds with long necks. A Mute Swan's neck has a characteristic S-shape. They also develop a distinct bump at the top of their orange bills.
Trumpeter Swans can exceed 20 pounds in weight. These are our largest waterfowl. It takes quite a while for them to get into the air, flapping along using their webbed feet to gain speed on the water surface. A space of at least 300 feet is required to get air borne.
It is hard to tell Tundra and Trumpeter swans apart. Some Tundra Swans have a yellow patch at the back of their black bills. There are subtle differences in bill size and shape. Trumpeter Swans tend to be larger than Tundra Swans.
Mute Swans were introduced into North American from Europe many decades ago and wild breeding populations occur in some areas of the northeastern and north-central USA. They are commonly released around small lakes and ponds for ornamental purposes but regularly escape if their wing feathers are not regularly clipped.
If you encounter black-colored swans, especially around golf courses, you've come across the Australian Black Swan. Black Swans have been kept as ornamental birds for small lakes and ponds but can escape the same way Mute Swans do.
If you happen to be around a place where Mute or Black swans are breeding, be careful. They will attack anything that gets too close to their nests.
Jay V. Huner