Hundreds of Trumpeter Swans Congregate in Pemberton: a sign of spring

File under: Nature breathes sigh of relief and animals enjoy a break from constant human activity, as people are forced to lower their impact and be, to their great angst, resistance and discomfort, a little bit more thoughtful.

Connie Sobchak counted 629 trumpeter swans on March 20… she’s an expert birder so I trust her numbers, but I think I would have gone cross-eyed.

Knowing very little about this bird, I went a-Googling, and learned:

“they’re our biggest native waterfowl, stretching to 6 feet in length and weighing more than 25 pounds – almost twice as massive as a Tundra Swan. Getting airborne requires a lumbering takeoff along a 100-yard runway. Despite their size, this once-endangered, now recovering species is as elegant as any swan, with a graceful neck and snowy-white plumage. They breed on wetlands in remote Alaska, Canada, and the northwestern U.S., and winter on ice-free coastal and inland waters.”

  • Males average over 26 pounds, making them North America’s heaviest flying bird. To get that much mass aloft the swans need at least a 100 meter-long “runway” of open water: running hard across the surface, they almost sound like galloping horses as they generate speed for take off.
  • Starting in the 1600s, market hunters and feather collectors had decimated Trumpeter Swans populations by the late 1800s. Swan feathers adorned fashionable hats, women used swan skins as powder puffs, and the birds’ long flight feathers were coveted for writing quills. Aggressive conservation helped the species recover by the early 2000s.
  • Trumpeter Swans form pair bonds when they are three or four years old. The pair stays together throughout the year, moving together in migratory populations. Trumpeters are assumed to mate for life, but some individuals do switch mates over their lifetimes. Some males that lost their mates did not mate again.




  • pumps its feet up and down over edible roots to create a current of water that frees the roots from the surrounding mud
  • may live in captivity for up to 35 years, but in the wild, swans generally live for less than 12 years
  • has an unusually dense layer of down that seems to make it almost impervious to the cold
  • was once hunted and harassed to the point where in 1933 there were only 77 Trumpeter Swans breeding in Canada and 50 breeding in the United States

At present, biologists recognize three populations of Trumpeter Swans: the Pacific Coast Population, the Rocky Mountain Population, and the Interior Population. Two of these populations developed primarily from remnant flocks that survived the historic decline. The third consists of flocks that have been created by transplanting wild birds from established flocks into promising habitat and by breeding swans in captivity and releasing the young to the wild.

Birds from the Pacific Coast Population winter in British Columbia, after spending the summer in Alaska. Trumpeters from Alaska begin arriving along the British Columbia coast about November 1. Peak numbers are generally not seen until January or early February. Spring migration for the Pacific Coast Population begins in mid- to late February, depending on the weather. By mid-March most Trumpeters have disappeared from the coast, not to appear on the Alaskan breeding grounds until mid- to late April. After the swans leave the estuaries, they cross the Coast Mountains. Once east of the mountains they fly north, stopping at various large lakes in central British Columbia and southern Yukon on the way.


Photos by Connie Sobchak.



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