Beauty and Grace, The Trumpeter Swan
Photos and Text by Lee Chuah

The cry is deep and loud, resonant and sonorous, and sounds like a trumpet.  Hence the name, Trumpeter Swan. The rarest of swans and the largest waterfowl species native to North America, the Trumpeter Swan is a manifest of nature's beauty and grace.

The adult trumpeter swan is all white and has a broad, flat bill with a red stripe along the edge of the lower mandible. The bill has fine tooth-like serrations along the edges that strain water when the bird feeds on aquatic vegetation. Its long neck allows the swan to uproot plants in 4 feet of water. Sometimes there is a rust tint on the head and neck because of iron in the water.

Male swans are called "cobs", female swans are "pens", and young swans up to 1 year of age are "cygnets". In a standing position, an adult swan is about 4 ft. high and the wingspan is between 6 to 8 feet. Its defense mechanism is striking predators with those powerful wings. The adult male typically weighs between 26 to 30 lbs. and the female averages at about 21 to 22 lbs. Trumpeter swans mate for life and may live for 20 to 30 years. If one member of a pair dies, the survivor usually finds another mate.

Each year the adult swan goes through a period of molting all its feathers making it flightless for 1 to 2 months. This usually occurs during the warmest months of July and August.

Large areas of shallow water with vegetation such as bulrushes, sedges and cattails are common nesting areas for trumpeter swans. Nests are built on top of former muskrat and beaver lodges or on mounds of vegetation. Trumpeter swans breed from as early as 2 years of age, usually laying 5 creamy white eggs from between April to June. The eggs incubate about 32 days and the young fledge at about 14 weeks.

Preening is vital to maintaining the bird's plumage. When preening, the swan presses its bill against an oil gland located at the base of the tail to extract a greasy fluid which is used to clean, recondition and waterproof the feathers.

Trumpeter swans were hunted for their meat and feathers during the 19th century and by 1900, it was widely believed that the species had become extinct. Fortunately, several small isolated populations were found in remote areas of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska and Canada. With the help of government protection established in 1935 and several restoration programs in various states, the population has increased to a level where the swans are now no longer listed as threatened or endangered. However in some parts of the country, the trumpeter swan is more rare than the bald eagle, and there still are several threats to the continued existence of this species. 
Shooting remains a problem because hunters mistake trumpeter swans for snow geese. Lead poisoning from the ingestion of spent shots and fishing sinkers is another problem. Trumpeter swans are highly sensitive to lead poisoning and just 1 to 2 lead pellets can sicken or kill them. People who choose to hunt should use non-toxic ammunition such as steel shots, bismuth shots, tin shots, tungsten-matrix, tungsten-iron and tungsten-polymer shots. Although more expensive than lead shots, this is a small price to pay for preserving non-target species such as the trumpeter swan.
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