Archive for February, 2009

Trumpeter Swan Identification

February 27, 2009


Comparative Size Assists Identification - Try our other Tips!

Comparative Size Assists Identification - Try our other Tips!

The Trumpeter Swan Society website holds many useful clues to help you distinguish North American Swans in the field. Spring migration brings new challenges so it’s a good time to test your skills. At  you can find a comparative chart with measurements of each species, sound recordings of their voices, a printable identification brochure, hints on behaviors and postures that clinch identification and other helpful tips. There is a whole page devoted to ‘head and bills’ with a cautionary note to use tips when birds are standing as this clue is far more difficult to discern in flight.  takes you direct to our Identification pages. 

I (Peg) like to think of bird identification as a pleasant way to use those geometry skills learned long ago. You may not always have another species to use as a ruler against the swan you are looking at. If you do, it’s easy – just how much larger than the Mallard or Snow Goose is this bird?  Your birding field guides lists sizes – make a handy reference chart for comparable waterfowl in your area. If you find a swan or swans on their own, try using geometry within the bird. The Mute Swan’s bill is distinctive while the other two species are not at first glance. However, if you focus on the length of the bill and hold mental measurement up against the birds head, a Tundra Swan’s bill from eye to tip will barely cover its cheek back to the neck. A Trumpeter’s bill if used in this way would extend way beyond the neck. Always remember that the shape of the head profile may vary between individual birds. Tundra swans, especially, have a wide range of head-bill shapes, some having very obvious concave bills, while others appear straighter. Color can give additional clues. Look carefully at the eye area for any yellow on the lore and to see if the eye is distinct from the bill as in the tundra swan. You will need a scope or a very close encounter to accurately discern color in most bills, but it may stand out in enlarged digital images.

As Trumpeters expand their range, it is critical that hunters recognize them quickly from far smaller Snow Geese. As we develop our Citizen Science Monitoring Project it will be imperative that observers know the difference. Take a moment to study our tips, head for the field where you may find a mix of species and please tell us what information you find most helpful and in general, how would you rate your confidence as you sort through the flock?  Thanks to Loren Webster for sharing this photo from his photography blog.

Arkansas Swans Prepare to Migrate North

February 24, 2009

Trumpeter Swans When to Depart Arkansas?

In the winter of 1990 wild Trumpeter Swans returned to Arkansas on their own after an absence from the state for over 100 years. Three mottled-gray juvenile birds spent several months on a 30-acre oxbow off the Little Red River east of Heber Springs, about 50 miles north of Little Rock in Cleburne County. The next year a banded, mated pair from Minnesota joined them and the following winter the pair returned with three cygnets. By 2005 the flock had grown to 88 birds, and this winter the flock tally was at least 125. While most of the birds are unmarked, banded birds from Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota have been observed.

One of TTSS’ goals is to encourage southward migration of Trumpeter Swans under the approval of the Mississippi Flyway Council. Trumpeter Swan nesting has been successfully re-established in the Midwest, but limited fall migration has been a major concern. Success of Lake Magness swans suggested that Arkansas holds opportunities for swans to winter south of the 40th parallel.

This month, The Trumpeter Swan Society (TTSS), Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and have again teamed up to expand the winter range of Midwest Trumpeter Swans. In January 2008, a group of 9-month old free-flying trumpeters captured in Iowa was transferred to Arkansas. Fifteen more cygnets are being released this week. We hope that young swans will imprint on the National Park Service’s Boxley Valley of the Buffalo River and at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, but move north in spring on their own establishing a migratory tradition – a process called reverse migration imprinting.

Depending on winter conditions, the birds may begin to move north in the next few weeks, and will likely be on the wing by early March. Please report Arkansas and surrounding state sightings of Trumpeter Swans so we can track their progress. A survey form and further detail can be found on the Trumpeter Swan Society website at

Photo contributed by Mark Wetzel.  We welcome your shared photos of Trumpeter Swans!  Just send an email or link to us through our website.

Trumpeter Swans – When to Depart Arkansas?