Trumpeter Swans on Lily Creek
If you look out on Lily Creek this time of year, you may be surprised to find a pair of trumpeter swans!
Trumpeter swans are an example of a very rare success story in conservation. Over two hundred years of over-hunting these beautiful large birds for food and their feathers, which were used for hat decorations and writing quills, nearly brought trumpeter swans to extinction. In 1935, there were only 69 known individuals in North America. Aggressive conservation of trumpeter swans has saved them and they are now found in numbers of above 20,000 today. In 1996, their COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) status went from Endangered to Not at Risk.
Trumpeter swans are North America’s largest species of waterfowl with a wingspan of 2 meters and and weighing 8-13 kilograms. They can be identified by their bright white plumage and black bill and feet. They usually return to the same nesting site each year and are known to form a lifelong pair bond with one individual. The pair bonded couple even stay together throughout the year and during migration.
Lily Creek provides them with the perfect nesting habitat and lots of aquatic plants and algae to eat. Trumpeter swans like to build their nests on the top of muskrat dens, beaver lodges and dams, or any other raised areas surrounded by water. Both sexes collect plant material and mud, and the female uses her body and bill to shape a very large nest. Nests can take as many as 14-35 days to complete and once it is, the female will lay 4-6 eggs. The eggs are creamy or dull white and the couple will only have one brood per season.
The hatchlings break open their shells after about 32-37 days of incubation. Female trumpeter swans are unique in that they cover their eggs with their feet, instead of “sitting” on them. The cygnets are covered with a mouse-grey down and they are ready to swim and feed on their own only 24 hours after hatching.
Today trumpeter swans can be found in wetlands in Alaska, Canada and the North-western United States. So if you’re passing by or taking a walk on the Lily Creek boardwalk, please be kind and don’t disturb the pair, as trumpeter swans are quite sensitive to human disturbances. This seems a little curious since they seem to like returning to our little wetland in the middle of the city. The pair looked like they were building their nest last week, which means that in a month or two from now a whole family of trumpeter swans might be swimming in Lily Creek!