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Tundra Swan Facts

Rohini Mohan
The Tundra swans mate for life and are a very close knit group of birds. They are an exceedingly attractive and intelligent species, that have become endangered due to pollution, hunting, and loss of habitat.
The Tundra swan, scientific name Cygnus Columbianus is an enchanting bird with pristine white feather and an even more prominent beak. The beak is black with a bright yellow lore spot, which makes these birds different from trumpeter swans.
It falls under the category of the Holarctic swans, which means that these birds are found all over the Arctic, Eurasia and Northern Africa. These birds breed in large numbers in the tundra biomes of North American and Arctic regions.
These birds migrate in flocks during winters towards the grasslands and marshy areas near coastal boundaries, falling within the ambit of the Holartic zone.

The Tundra Swan

✰ These birds have white bodies and jet black feet, but some swans have been found with golden brown plumage as well. This change in color occurs if the water they float on has excess content of iron.
✰ There are two subspecies of these swans, which are known as the American Whistling swan and the Eurasian Bewick Swan. However recent studies have concluded that both these species are the same. The minor changes in the color of the beak and size does not make them any different from the Tundra swans.
✰ These swans migrate twice a year to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, in order to escape extreme winter and before breeding.
✰ The call of the Tundra swans is very similar to that of a goose. The call is loud and sounds like a vintage horn! They are a very noisy bunch and can be heard from far.
✰ They are the noisiest when congregating in groups, which may probably be their way of saying hello to each other. They make these excited calls while they are foraging for food, or mating or when some take off in flight or make a sudden landing. It is also used as a means of warning against predators and other dangers.
✰ They feed on underwater vegetation such as marine eelgrass, mannagrass, tubers, and pondweed. The way they catch hold of the vegetation is by dipping their long necks into the water. All that is visible during this process is the birds bottom half sticking out of the water.
It looks weird and is a sight not to be missed. If you ever get to witness this sight, be prepared to see quite a few swans with the tails sticking out in straight angles at one point in time! The reason being that these birds like foraging for food together and almost all their moves are synchronized.
✰ Swans forage for food on dry land as well and like feeding on grass, grains, potatoes and other remains which are left behind after a harvest is complete.

Breeding Habit

✰ These swans mate for life and do not change their partners. In case one of the mate dies, the companion will not mate for several years. In some cases the swan will never mate with another ever again and will remain so till it dies. These birds often remain as a pair for a year before breeding.
✰ The process of mating begins during late spring time. Each bird has its own nesting ground which it uses every year. It's only in cases where the nest has been destroyed or has become unfit for habitation, does a swan make a new one.
✰ The nests are made during early May. Both the male (Cob) and the female (Pen) swans work together in order to build the nesting ground.
✰ The nests are built on higher ground levels and are always near the lake for constant source of water.
✰ The swans lay their eggs on the ground by making, comfortable and mound shaped nests for themselves, which they cover with pondweed and moss.
✰ A pen swan lays around 3-4 eggs every breeding season.
✰ These birds are not as peaceful as they seem, and can get extremely aggressive during their breeding season. They become excessively territorial and are constantly at guard trying to protect their eggs.
✰ The cob swan keeps watch for predators and can be seen lurking near its mate and the nest.
✰ If danger appears, the male cob will flare out its wings and run after the predator so as to scare it away.
✰ Some of the common predators for swan eggs are weasel, fox, sea gulls, bears, wolves and human beings.
✰ The eggs take approximately 30-35 days to incubate and hatch. The newborn chicks or fledglings are dark gray in color and have scanty plumage. Since these swans breed in cold climates, the young ones grow much faster.
✰ It takes 3-4 years for a swan to reach its reproductive age. The fledglings stay with their parents for the entire period of one year and leave during the winter migration along with the other migrating swans. However, they do return sometimes to the winter grounds of their birth, in order to meet their parents.
A disturbing fact about Tundra swans is that, these birds are being illegally hunted by poachers for recreation and food. Secondly, these swans are losing their habitat to pollution, mining and drying up of lakes. They are under threat and may soon find themselves under the extinct bracket.