From Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to the high Canadian Arctic, Tundra Swans make the 6000 km round trip journey each year beginning in early March and arriving in the Arctic by the beginning of May. While resting on this “staging area”, the Tundra Swans give visitors an excellent opportunity to view one of the last great wildlife migrations.
This is one of the first “stops” the swans make after leaving the wintering grounds off the coast of Maryland.
Tundra Swans are attracted to the long summer Arctic days. During summer in the Arctic, plant growth is abundant and insect activity is high. Both plants and insects are favorite foods of the swans. Nesting takes place on the Arctic islands. Nests consist of a mound of moss and grass 30-60 cm high and 60-90 cm wide. Four or five eggs are laid in late May and hatch in a little over a month. The newborn tundra swans will sport a dusk gray colour and don’t receive their full white plumage until the second summer. The chicks fly by 11 weeks of age when they must be ready for the late September voyage back to Chesapeake Bay.
A flock of adult Tundra Swans flying overhead is truly a spectacular sight. Even though they are the smallest swan in Canada, a full grown Tundra Swan boasts a wing span between 180-210 cm.They measure between 120-148 cm in length and weigh approximately 5.5-8.2 kg. They have been known to live for 15-20 years in captivity but will survive only half this time in the wild. Often mistaken for the larger Trumpeter Swan, the Tundra Swan can be distinguished by it’s mellow high pitched hoo-ho-hoo call, which is somewhat similar to that of the Canada Goose. The Tundra Swan is also a much smaller bird than the Trumpeter Swan and adults have a small, yellow dot below the eye which can help to distinguish between swan species.
Tundra Swans fly in a V-shaped wedge in family groups of 6 or 7. Their flight speeds can reach up to 80 km/h and altitudes range from 450 m during the day to 3000 m at night. The express route from Chesapeake Bay to Pinery takes about 24 hours. It is the first stop on the 3000 km journey to the Arctic which will take 3 months to complete. The swans arrive at Pinery in early March and will stay anywhere from 3 to 14 days depending on the weather, food supply and flooding. As many as 10 000 swans can be seen at one time if the conditions are favorable.
Tundra Swans have been returning to the fields behind the Lambton County Heritage Museum, year after year. These fields, once the “Old Thedford Bog”, now provide the swans with a staging area. Staging areas supply the swans with food and a place to rest on their journey North. Crop residues and flooded fields are ideal conditions to keep the swans in the Grand Bend area for weeks. In previous years Tundra Swans have been seen as early as February 16 and have still been spotted as late as mid April.
The Tundra Swans are a sight not to be missed. Return of the Swans is an annual event hosted by Pinery Provincial Park and The Lambton Heritage Museum.
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