Trumpeter Swans, beautiful and majestic, are North America’s largest waterfowl and heaviest flying bird. This dark, windy winter day is brightened by this white beauty keeping an eye on us as she guards her family. Females are called a pens; males are called cobs.
Trumpeter Swans are a native species to North America. Most Trumpeters weigh 21-30 pounds, although large males can reach 35 pounds. Standing on the ground, an adult male can stand four feet high. With a wingspan over seven feet carrying that heavy body, Trumpeters need at least 100 yard “runway” of open water; running hard and fast across the surface of the water in order to generate enough speed for take off. What a sight!
Beginning in the late 1800s, Trumpeter’s were hunted to near extinction for their feathers to adorn fashionable hats, skin for face powder puffs, and long flight feathers coveted for writing quills. Aggressive conservation efforts helped the species recover by the early 2000’s. Since they generally build their nests atop beaver or muskrat dens, overhunting of these rodents diminished breeding habitat for Trumpeters. As the rodent populations recovered, the swan numbers improved. One of these years you’d think we’d recognize that this world is a system with each part relying on the others, including animals, bugs, birds, plants and people, hopefully helping preserve the balance. Sigh . . . but we did good with the Trumpeters since in most of their range there are healthy populations that continue to increase.
Nests are sometimes built on large floating mats of vegetation. Their nest can be 11 feet across and 3 feet high and is often used by the same pair year after year. The young swans, called cygnets, turn white at about 1-1/2 years old. There are usually four to six eggs in a swan’s clutch. Trumpeters have an unusual way of incubating their eggs: they warm the eggs by covering them with their webbed feet. Once hatched in June, the cygnets can swim and feed within 24 hours. By 15 weeks they will have gained over a pound a week reaching up to 20 lbs. and will now be able to fly.
It is assumed that Trumpeters mate for life, but it appears that they change mates a number of times over their normal lifetimes of more than 20 years. Cygnets stay with the parents over their first winter, but the parents chase them away in the spring as they begin planning for their next family. The young swans stay in sibling groups until about two years old when they themselves start the search for a mate and a new life in a remote open-water area.