They're Back! Trumpeter Swans Return to Their Winter Home
It's a peaceful image: Trumpeter Swans gliding along the waters in the early morning sunrises. That image is now reality as literally hundreds of swans find their way to the Meeting of the Great Rivers and their winter homes.
Significant populations of the birds are found in the bays and inlets along the Mississippi River and the Audubon Center at Riverlands. In recent years, over 1,000 Trumpeter Swans have made their winter homes in the region.
Through species restoration efforts, the Trumpeter Swan has made a great comeback in the Midwest along the Mississippi Flyway. The Trumpeter Swan is the largest waterfowl species native to North America. Putting on quite a show, they are easy to locate in the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary from December through February.
Trumpeter Swans are the largest and rarest of all North American waterfowl. Adults have snow white plumage with black bills and feet. Adult females, called pens, may weigh up to 20 pounds. Males, called cobs, can weigh over 30 pounds. Trumpeters measure approximately five feet from bill to tail. Young immature trumpeter swans are called cygnets and have a sooty-gray plumage with a pinkish bill and feet. By the second year of life, the cygnets will have their adult plumage. Trumpeter swans can live longer than 24 years in the wild and more than 30 years in captivity.
Trumpeter Swans inhabit lakes, ponds, large rivers and coastal bays. The most important habitat requirements are open water, access to food and protection from disturbance. Winter habitats extend from the Chesapeake Bay to the lower Mississippi. These reasons are why the Alton region is the perfect place for Trumpeter Swans to make their winter home.
Trumpeter Swans select a permanent mate between two and three years of age. Between four and six years of age they begin nesting.
Trumpeter Swans forage on water and on land, especially during the winter. Their long necks allow them to forage for submerged vegetation without diving.
Trumpeter Swans nests are surrounded by water, or on floating vegetation. Both male and female help build the nest. The nest is a low mound of plant matter with a depression in the middle. The female lays four to five eggs in a clutch and does most of the incubation herself, although the male may help. Incubation lasts 32 to 37 days. The young are able to swim and feed themselves almost immediately after hatching and can fly at about three to four months of age.
Trumpeter Swans 101
Other Common Swans and Geese Species
The snow goose is very common throughout the Mississippi Flyway. There are two color morphs for this species. The white morph adult is mostly white with bold, black wingtips and a pinkish bill. The blue morph adult has a mostly white head and neck with a variable amount of white on its under parts. The blue morph was once thought of as a separate species. Parents stay with their young through the first winter. Families will travel together on both the southbound and northbound migrations.
For more information on trumpeter swans in Alton, Illinois, contact:
Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary
301 Riverlands Way
West Alton, Missouri 63386
National Great Rivers Museum
#2 Lock and Dam Way
Alton, Illinois 62002
Click here to listen to a clip from St. Louis Public Radio about trumpeter swans by local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wildlife biologist Charlie Deutsch and Lane Richter, a senior ecologist at Audubon Center at Riverlands.