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Swans A Singing

Forget “Swans a Singing”, how about “Swans a Trumpeting”? Trumpeter Swans are the rarest swan in the world. They are also the biggest and it is probably those extra large breasts that got them into trouble. Abundant in North America until the early 1900s, they became nearly extinct due to down, feathers and meat demands. Lead poisoning from shot didn't help either. Who knew, as folks tucked themselves into cozy swan bedding after dining on swan drumstick that the largest extant waterfowl in the world was fighting for survival? Indeed, In most of the United States the last trumpet had been played when only pockets of swans survived in Alaska and northern Canada.

Retired U of Calgary professor Dr Len Hills knows how to conduct research and has been studying, following and collecting local swan data (that’s Trumpeters and their smaller, more common relatives, Tundra Swans) since the early 1990’s. According to Dr Hills (he had another life aside from swan lover, holding a Phd in Geology) the Bow Valley corridor of Alberta is a primary stop for hundreds of swans during spring and fall migration (local swan fall migration just ended a few weeks ago). Some arrive exhausted and spend days recovering at the same wetland year over year. Hill’s labour of love has him familiar with many returning birds along with fascinating stories to tell about survival. Dr Hills data provides ardent insight into this conservation success story from behaviour, recruitment, flock sizes, entrance to and from wetlands, migration patterns, development and agricultural impacts.

So, when you hear the familiar carol this season, think of our local Trumpeters and Tundras, stopping in the spring and fall on their way to northern and southern destinations. Being the 747’s of waterfowl species requires a long runway for takeoff. They select large, pristine bodies of water, usually located between the foothills and Rocky Mountains of Alberta and increasingly more difficult to find Hills research suggests. Before these majestic birds liftoff it is not unusual to hear "Swans a Trumpeting". See you next year, birdie, and bring your friends.

For more on wild birds and swans, see also:


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