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Thursday, March 3, 2016


Keep your eyes to the skies. In the coming days, one of my favorite signs of spring – and certainly one of the most beautiful – will be migrating through the region. Tundra swans will be making their journey to the far north and will grace us with their angelic appearance and interesting calls.

Tundra signs will soon be seen overhead -- a sign of the coming spring.
(PHOTO COURTESY OF  OHIO DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES)
Tundra swans spend their winters along the mid-Atlantic and mid-Pacific coasts of the United States, although you might see a few stragglers on the other end of the county enjoying the open waters of the Upper Niagara River. They’re just now beginning their northward treks and I’ve always found that their migration through eastern Niagara County hits its peak right around March 15th of every year, and flocks can be seen as late as the first week of April.

Their numbers are nothing like those of the Canada geese or various ducks that pass through the area. Overall, their northern breeding populations come in at just under 200,000 birds. I would consider tundra swans to be uncommon migrants around here – I might be lucky to see maybe a half dozen to ten flocks each March. That’s what makes seeing them so special.

You can’t mistake them when you see them. They tend to be high fliers. They have large white bodies and very long necks (which allows you to tell them apart from snow geese, which are also white). They have a mammoth wingspan of 5 to 7 feet and they’re big…a healthy adult bird can weigh more than 20 pounds.

They have an interesting call that travels a very long distance – and which will alert you to an incoming flock. It’s best compared to a clarinet-like hoot or maybe even a dog bark. Tundra swans were once commonly known as whistling swans because of the whistling sound created by their wings in flight, a sound so pronounced you can hear it even if they are 100 feet above your head.

They will stop to feed in open fields while here and they spend their evenings and nights sleeping on ponds and Lake Ontario. If you take a scenic drive around the back roads of the town of Somerset or the northern reaches of Hartland on some upcoming weekend, you might see them on the ground at local farms, eating left over corn or soybeans.

Tundra swans are not be confused with mute swans, a beautiful but rather offensive invasive species that the state is trying to eliminate for many good reasons (http://www.eastniagarapost.com/2015/03/exploring-niagara-frontier-mute-swans.html). Mute swans are the only swans you’ll see in Niagara County from May through September.

Tundra swans, on the other hand, are with us for only a few weeks.

Savor their brief visits and their stark beauty -- it means spring is right around the corner.

+Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport where he always stops in his tracks when he hears swan calls. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at bobconfer@juno.com.



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