Creature Feature: The Tundra Swan

February 15, 2018

Audubon Lake and Wetlands is a prime habitat for tundra swans. They typically winter in the coastal regions of California, Oregon, and Washington and wetlands of northern Nevada and Utah, as well as parts of the eastern U.S.. These large, all white birds weigh about 14.5 pounds, and have black bills, usually with a single yellow spot by the eye. They dip their long necks down into the water to retrieve seeds and other plant material and will even upend to reach as far as three feet under water. Young swans are gray.

In the spring they fly to the Arctic, where pairs construct nests of mounded material one to two feet wide with a depression in the center, and lay five to seven eggs. The female does most of the incubating, but both males and females tend to the young once hatched. They rarely feed the cygnets, but will use their feet to stir up food from the bottom of the water.

In late summer and early fall the adults and their young join together with other families before their fall migration. Except during nesting season, they are quite gregarious. Despite their large size, tundra swans are vulnerable to predation by raptors, particularly golden eagles.

Lindell Haggin has volunteered for Inland Northwest Land Conservancy for many years. She is a knowledgeable birder and is active in the Spokane Audubon Society.