THESE COMOX VALLEY visitors known as trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl found in North America.

As winter approaches so do trumpeter swans

Last year between Dec. 6 and Feb. 24, an average of 2,300 swans were counted on a weekly basis by Comox Valley Naturalists swan monitors

I was stopped in my tracks whilst walking last week as a flock of “honking” trumpeter swans flew overhead in a perfect V formation.

Each year the arrival of these magnificent birds heralds the onset of winter, and their departure in mid-April signals the arrival of spring. First identified in 1850 in Alaska, trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl found in North America.

The “cobs” or male swans measure 1.8 metres from tail to beak, with a wingspan of three metres and weighing 12.7 kilograms. The smaller “pen” or female weigh an average of 10 kg.

Unlike domesticated “mute” swans that have orange beaks, the trumpeter swans have black beaks, legs and feet. Trumpeter swans mate for life and are spectacular to watch especially in the spring when they perform their mating rituals, which include balletic dances.

Adult swans have white plumage; juvenile swans have grey plumage. Their legs and feet are a brownish yellow and their beaks are pink. Sometimes their heads will be tinged with orange from the minerals in the water they forage in.

Once hunted for their feathers and hides that were prized for hats, boas and other fashionable goods, they also provided valuable food.

The Migratory Bird Act was put into place in 1918, which put an end to swan hunting; in 1932 their numbers were reduced to a mere 69 birds. As a result of the restrictions of swan hunting their numbers have continued to improve and in 2008 populations were estimated to be at 16,000.

Last year between Dec. 6 and Feb. 24, an average of 2,300 swans were counted on a weekly basis by Comox Valley Naturalists swan monitors. This society has been monitoring the swans with a weekly count every Tuesday, as part of the Comox valley Waterfowl Management Program to manage the swans on local farmland.

According to the naturalists, swans can rival cows for daily food consumption on farmlands.

The West Coast winter swan habitat ranges from Sumas and northwest Washington and Vancouver as well as the east coasts of central and southern Vancouver Island. Northern B.C. and  Alaska provide their breeding and summer habitat.

During their winter stay in the Comox Valley and parts of Campbell River, they dine on a variety of field crops including, hay, corn, perennial grasses, seeds and tubers including marsh and wetland vegetation.

Habitats for our local swan populations include agricultural farmland, wetlands and estuaries — also the shallow waters around Goose Spit.

Arriving at their winter grounds with the young juveniles, the swans have only at few short months to prepare and be in top flying condition to make the arduous spring migration back to the far north.

Often when the swans arrive in Alaska and other northern grounds they are faced with frozen water and snow still on the ground, this makes their need to breed even more urgent as they have to build their nest produce their eggs and hatch their young.

Nests are built or old nest reused, and are often found on vegetation in shallow water; hatching of the cygnets coincides with the explosion of the insect population upon which the young feed for the first few weeks of their life.

There are many predators for the young swans including eagles, owls and mink, but there are also many other dangers as they fly south and arrive in our area.

As with all wildlife, human impact is the greatest peril facing the swans. As our habitat continues to encroach upon theirs, each year another potential hazard arises. It appears they will be at greater risk for any oil spills or other water pollutants with the proposed expansion of pipelines.

Migration takes a huge toll on the young if they run out of stored fat supplies; we often see them at MARS emaciated and in need of a short stay to fatten them up so they can be released back to the flock.

We have a special secure swan pond enclosure where swans are kept. Until they are ready for release, they are able to preen and clean themselves; fortunately last year we had few swans in care.

The swans’ huge wingspan makes them victims of electrocution by high wires as often they are disoriented by fog and do not get enough height to clear the wires. We thank BC Hydro for helping with this issue by adjusting wires for both swans and eagles. Another hazard presents itself under the water when the swans forage for roots. In some areas, leftover lead lurks in the mud from old hunting practices and the swans ingest the poison into the gizzard, which it paralyzes, causing fatal starvation. This is easy to identify as the swan “spins” in the water before drowning.

You can also help by keeping dogs on a leash and away from the water’s edge when there are swans or other sea birds close to shore. The Comox Valley is a major winter destination for migratory birds that dine on our abundant food supplies and we need to protect this habitat.

For more information, the Comox Valley Naturalists have a website at www.comoxvalleynaturalists.bc.ca. They also conduct monthly meetings. To report injured wildlife, call toll free 1-800-304-9968.

Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Friday.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A couple of clients took a break from the cold in January on opening day of the Connect Warming Centre. File photo
Courtenay council approves lease extension for Warming Centre

Courtenay council has approved a one-year lease extension and continued in-kind support… Continue reading

From left, NDP party leader John Horgan, Kus-kus-sum project manager Tim Ennis (with his daughter, Kestrel), K’omoks First Nation Chief Nicole Rempel, and Courtenay-Comox NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard pose for a photo across the estuary from the Kus-kus-sum site. Photo by Terry Farrell
B.C. VOTES 2020: Horgan promises to bridge Kus-kus-sum funding gap

NDP leader John Horgan made what could amount to a major financial… Continue reading

The three candidates vying for the Courtenay-Comox riding: Ronna-Rae Leonard (NDP) Brennan Day (Liberal) and Gillian Anderson (Green)
BC VOTES 2020 – Courtenay-Comox candidates address affordable housing

In an effort to inform the Courtenay-Comox riding constituents, we have supplied… Continue reading

The Comox Valley Hospice Society recently received a generous donation from a personal donor to help fill a fundraising gap created by COVID-19. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
Comox Valley Hospice Society receives significant donation

CVHS is facing a fundraising shortage created by the pandemic

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A screenshot from the virtual all-candidates meeting on Monday, Oct. 19 hosted by the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce. (SCREENSHOT)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Mid Island-Pacific Rim candidates weigh in on forestry, tourism, LNG

For the first time ever, Alberni Valley Chamber hosted a virtual all-candidates’ meeting

Nanaimo RCMP are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Michael Leighton, who is wanted on 11 warrants on Vancouver Island and is a suspect in a recent break, enter and theft in Nanaimo. (Photos submitted)
RCMP looking for break-and-enter suspect with 11 warrants on the Island

Nanaimo RCMP say Michael Leighton a suspect in theft of pistol and $40,000 worth of coins

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of decades-old plane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of Sts’ailes Community School students helped discover the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Most Read