There are seven species of swans across the globe and two reside in Canada: are the tundra, and the trumpeter swans, who call the Columbia Valley home. They can be found breeding in areas such as the Columbia Lake North wetlands. Photo by Timothy Abraham on UnsplashChadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Since creating and writing my first Wild Files column on July 1, 2022, it has been both my privilege and pleasure to share several fun and interesting facts about the nature we see. From bears to butterflies and all the spectacular species in between. As I spread my own wings to move on and embrace a new opportunity. I leave you with my swan song. 

There are seven species of swans worldwide and two  reside in B.C.:  the tundra and the trumpeter swans. The latter can be found in areas such as the Columbia Lake North wetlands. Trumpeter swans are North America’s heaviest and largest native bird in the duck and goose family, and adults can range from 165 to 180 centimetres (cm) in length.  They can weigh up to 13.5 kilograms (kg), with a wingspan ranging from 185 to 250 cm. While they are typically vegetarians, trumpeter swans will also eat small fish and fish eggs, while their young will feed on aquatic insects. Swans seek out undisturbed and unpolluted bodies of water less than two metres (m) deep for breeding. They prefer to nest near small ponds, lakes, marshes, and bogs; adult swans require at least 92 m of open water for their take-off into flight.

In the game

A group of swans are known by many names including a bank and a game. Male swans are called cobs and are typically larger than their female counterparts, referred to as pens. Games of swans glide through both the water and air with great speed and grace. Known for their long-outstretched necks and their heavy bodies, together swans migrate in either a diagonal or V-shaped formation. Swans soar at heights of up to 2,439 m high and can reach speeds of nearly 48 kilometres (km) per hour. Migration spans three to four months, from late winter to early spring. 

Love birds

Swans mate for life. They begin mating between the age four and seven years and become quite territorial during this time. Mating season occurs from March through May. The dating dance begins when a cob and pen face one another and nod their heads, while shaking their wings simultaneously. Partnered swans dipping both their wings and heads while preening one another is all a part of the process. It is said the grace of these rituals of courtship to copulation are performed like a beautiful ballet. Both the cob and pen work together on the construction of their love nest which can be nearly 2 m in length across, in preparation for their new family.  A pen will lay up to nine eggs which take between 35 to 42 days to hatch; baby swans are called cygnets. Both the cob and pen take an active role in parenting and while reproduction rates drop significantly once swans reach 20, swans live together for up to 30 years.

Ruffled feathers

Swans have over 25,000 feathers.They are intelligent and have excellent memories and can recall those who were unkind to them. When a swan is on the defensive, it stands tall, and appears as large as it can without moving, instead it completely ruffles its feathers. A fear of swans is called cygnophobia. 

Swan songs

Adult swans have many sounds and songs for different occasions. Mates greet one another with a short snore, while the females solicit males with a seductive, slow ‘glock-glock’ call. Females call out to their young; it sounds like the yap of a puppy, while whistles, honks, and growls can be heard in games of swans when communicating with one another.

In swans we trust 

In many Indigenous cultures swans symbolize peace, grace, innocence and trust. They are considered creatures that are pure of heart, and one of the few that mate for life.

By Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 30, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Columbia Valley Pioneer   Invermere, British Columbia
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