North America has three types of swans | ECOVIEWS
.The United States and Canada have three kinds of swans, each with a defining attribute. Trumpeter swans are the largest; tundra swans fly the farthest; mute swans are the most aggressive. Of course, each has other characteristics that make them distinctive.
Besides being the world’s largest species of waterfowl, the trumpeter swan is a U.S. native with a remarkable recovery record. In 2015 the estimated population size exceeded 60,000. Compare that to the total of 69 individual trumpeter swans known to be alive in the United States in 1932.
What caused the near extinction of this species? Inadequate wildlife regulations that resulted in overharvesting for the ornamental feathers trade.
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale was actually based on mute swans, but baby trumpeter swans (cygnets) are the paragon of the fabled ugly duckling in being a mousey gray color. Whereas the adults, with their snowy white plumage and large black bills, are magnificent creatures. Trumpeters get their name from their deep, resonant two-note call.
Tundra swans belong as much to Canada as to us and are the most abundant of the three North American species. They live up to the name “tundra” by breeding in arctic and subarctic regions; they migrate south in winter.
In the eastern half of the country, the majority of tundra swans fly to wetlands in North Carolina, the numbers reportedly totaling as high as 75,000 in some years. These snow-white birds are also known as whistling swans because of the sound their wings make when a flock flies overhead.
In one sense, the last species of U.S. swan doesn’t belong here, but more people have seen mute swans than either trumpeter or tundra swans. If you see a huge white bird swimming in a private pond or municipal lake, it is probably a mute swan. This swan is readily recognizable by its orange bill and the black knob between and slightly below its eyes.
The species was brought to this country from Europe in the 1800s. Wild populations now occur in many areas and mute swans have developed breeding populations in various parts of the United States. Wild mute swans, such as those in city parks, often become semidomesticated. They are thought to have been domesticated in Europe in the 12th century. More than 20,000 are estimated to be in North America, a low population density compared with the 500,000 living in Europe.
Mute swans are beautiful to watch as they glide gracefully across the water but are a force to be reckoned with during breeding season. They have been known to turn over kayaks and canoes, continuing to attack the boater in the water. Human deaths have even been reported when victims drowned. A dog had best beware of an attack by a mute swan, as it might be killed by an enraged mother. The mute swan is not silent at all, making a variety of bland sounds, although the hissing of an angry swan is anything but pleasant.
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Whether you want to toss birdseed to swans in a city lake, travel to a wildlife refuge to see migratory waterfowl or just enjoy watching geese pass high overhead in a perfect V, you should be aware of this outstanding nature book: "Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America."
It does it all — complete species accounts that include information on identification, geographic distribution, migration, ecology, behavior and reproduction. The Wildlife Management Institute sponsored the book, which was written by Guy Baldassarre and published by Johns Hopkins University Press. It is the most comprehensive overview ever written on waterfowl that fly the skies anywhere between Mexico and Canada. This scientifically accurate, superbly written account covers all 46 U.S. species in the three bird groups.
All of these impressive waterfowl — ducks, geese and swans — are wildlife marvels whether they are flying or swimming. Just remember if it’s a big white bird with an orange bill and black knob below the eyes, you want to keep your distance.
Whit Gibbons is professor of zoology and senior biologist at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. If you have an environmental question or comment, email email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: North America has three types of swans | ECOVIEWS