The snow, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures during the first week of March might have made it seem like winter would never end, but the arrival of Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) on our lake told us spring was not far away. The Tundra Swan is smaller, but more populous than its cousin, the Trumpeter Swan. They spend winters on coastal estuaries, inlets, and bays on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts before returning to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
During the winter in the Mid-Atlantic, the swans have been feeding in the harvested fields on leftover corn and soybeans, and on clams from the muddy bottomland along the Chesapeake Bay and Pamlico Sound. When they make a rest stop on Lake Holiday in early March, “our” swans have just started a journey to their breeding grounds along the Colville River Delta in the Arctic tundra of Alaska, a trip of over 4,100 miles, which will take several months.
Tundra Swans that were banded by the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska have been found to return to the same areas on the Chesapeake Bay year after year and we can assume many of them know the Lake Holiday rest stop very well.
Information on the Tundra Swans’ feeding and migration behavior is taken from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology website: allaboutbirds.org.
By: John McClurken