Tundra Swan Migration 2018

The annual Tundra Spring Migration is just about over.  The swans left their winter home in Chesapeake Bay and started arriving here at the end of February.  This is the first stop on their journey to the Arctic.  They land in the wet farmers' fields where they can find food and rest up for the next stage of their journey.  Large groups of swans have been in the area for the past three weeks.  They're also in Aylmer, at a wildlife sanctuary where food and water are both available.


Unlike other years this time the light has been excellent, with blue skies, patches of cloud, and soft golden evening light rendering the swans even more beautiful.


They tend to fly in groups and can be heard long before they're seen.   Watching a large group of tundra swans flying overhead is an amazing sight.


These are large birds, almost 5 feet in length with a wingspan of 5-1/2 feet.  Males weigh in at 7.5 kg and females a little less at 6.3 kg.  They take their time in choosing a mate but once chosen they pair for life.


This group is taking off for the next stage of the journey west and north.


They're active on the water, interacting with each other, moving around, making loud sounds.  They run across the water as they prepare to fly from one section of the pond to another.  


Despite being large birds they land easily and elegantly, although sometimes nearby swans and geese get swamped.  Here three swans land among a group of resting swans and geese, and startle a dark morph snow goose into flight.  The goose flew a few feet away and quickly settled back down.


When the birds come in for landing they brace their legs, lower their rear ends, skim across the water for several yards leaving visible trails, and slowly retract their wings as they prepare for a resting position on the water.  The settling of the wings occurs gracefully over several seconds.


Several swans landing in the middle of a large group already on the water


A family of four arriving late in the day and getting ready to land.  The two younger birds, the ones with brown heads, were born in the Arctic last year and are undertaking their first migration north.  They remain with their parents for at least one full migration.


This year's migration is coming to a close.  As always I've enjoyed seeing and photographing these strong, beautiful birds.  I wish them well on the journey to their Arctic breeding grounds and look forward to seeing them again next year.


Tundra Swan Migration 2017

It's late winter, early spring and the Tundra Swans (also known as Whistling Swans) are migrating once more from their winter home in Chesapeake Bay north to their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic, a journey of more than 3,000 km.  A stop on their migration path is close by and seeing these magnificent birds is something I look forward to each year. There are approximately 160,000 birds that make up this Eastern Migration.

They are large birds, 4 to 4-1/2 feet long, with wingspans of 5-1/2 to 6 feet.  They fly in groups, in the usual V-formation, with birds joining along the way.  When one or two leave a staging area, getting ready for the next leg of the journey, others join in.

They come in to this area over a period of 25 days on average, depending on the weather conditions.  The full journey going north will take them 85 days.  (The return journey south takes longer,  averaging 101 days, because they have their young with them.)  Tundra Swans spend 51% of their lives in migration.  On this first longer stop they remain for some time, resting, eating, and getting ready for the next leg of their journey which will take them to North Dakota and Southern Manitoba.


These Canada Geese look small when swimming alongside the Tundra Swans.

The swans tend to stay together in groups, either the family group, or groups of younger, same sex birds.  The younger birds can be identified by the brown colouring on their necks and undercarriage; the darker the brown shading the younger the bird.  A bird is fully mature and ready to mate when it is 4 to 5 years old.

Parents and last year's cygnet in flight.  The family stays together for one full migration year.  And previous offspring will often remain close to the family group in the Arctic nesting areas.  


A younger bird getting ready to land.  They are so graceful in flight but less so as they prepare for a landing, angling their bodies downwards and using their feet as brakes on the surface of the water or the ground.  

A group of swans leaving for the next leg of the journey

Tundra Swans mate for life.  When mature the 4-5 year old males will start looking around for a mate.  The male does the courting and the female does the choosing.  The males start strutting their stuff, showing their feathers, looking strong and powerful.  The females take note.  And this goes on for some time.

A male swan engaged in his courtship dance.  He may have selected a particular female he's interested in and this display is for her.  If she's interested she will give a slight nod of her head.  But that doesn't mean it's a done deal.  There's a lot more dancing and nodding over several days before the female makes a definite choice.  It's a big decision as they will remain together for the rest of their lives.  And Tundra Swans live for about 20 years.  If one partner dies it will be several years before the survivor takes another mate, if at all. 

Getting out and seeing these birds is a joy.  Their migration through this area is nearly over but I'm hoping for one more visit next week, ideally with better light and a more interesting sky to showcase their strength, beauty and grace.  If not, there's always next year.

Migrating Tundra Swans

Tundra Swans in Western Ontario is a sure sign of Spring.  Each year thousands of these large, magnificent swans make the 4,000 mile journey from Chesapeake Bay to their summer home in the Arctic.   They stop twice to feed and rest on their northern migration - in Western Ontario and then in the north of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  The migration occurs over three to four weeks in late winter and early spring.   The journey is hard and according to the National Geographic only the strong will survive.

Tundra Swan in Flight

Tundra Swan in Flight

Resting After after a Long Journey

Resting After after a Long Journey

These swans are large, with a wing span of more than six feet.  They are also known as whistling swans for the sounds they make.  They can be heard long before they're seen.

The swans with brown colouring on their heads and neck are last year's young. They remain with their parents for the first full year of their life and one complete migration cycle.  

A family of four tundra swans.  The parents are at the front and rear and the two born last summer are in the middle.