Winter Swans

Having lived all my life in Southern Ontario, Canada, I always assumed that the occasional swan that I saw in a pretty setting was someone’s pet, or a bird purchased for it’s scenic appearance. While I drove my children to school, I regularly viewed a pair of swans in a golf course pond through the summer, never in winter, and just assumed they were pets, tucked away for the winter.

Trumpeter Swans in open water - winter
Trumpeter Swans in open water – winter

Do Swans stay in Ontario over the Winter?

How could such a beautiful bird appear naturally in our harsh climate? This winter in our new village, I regularly watch swans floating and preening in the still unfrozen river below our house. I was concerned, because I thought they should be somewhere south or somewhere safe.

My thoughts were – “they are so beautiful – aren’t they just pets? What do swans do in winter?” Well, some stay in Ontario in open water – and some migrate – more about that to follow…..

Trumpeter Swans Native to Canada

After a little bit of local research I discovered that trumpeter swans were actually native and common to this area more than 300 years ago. About 200 years ago, swans were virtually eliminated, due to hunting, loss of habitat and sensitivity to lead. The Hudson’s Bay Company reportedly captured thousands of swans annually – killing 17,671 swans between 1853 and 1877.

Re-Introducing Trumpeter Swans

By 1933, it was believed that there were only 70 wild Trumpeter Swans existing in the world, but in fact a population of several thousand was found in Alaska. This population was used to re-populate areas of North America. Careful re-introductions of Trumpeter Swans from this Alaska population were implemented in areas of North America beginning in 1968. In the late 1980s a breeding program that involved wildlife habitats and local farms keeping breeding pairs of trumpeter swans was introduced in Ontario. The population of Trumpeter Swans has been successfully restored, with the population growing from about 3,700 to 46,000 from 1968 to 2010.

Winter swans
Winter swans

I understand that Swans do migrate to warmer climates in the winter, but have also read that some do not migrate, as they have never learned how. In our area they are most apparent in the winter. Apparently they are busy in the spring through fall mating and raising families, but in the winter are more sociable and enjoy open water, tending to congregate in groups.

Swans in the unfrozen river
Swans in the unfrozen river

The swans that I have been watching down in the river, that look like little icebergs or floating snowballs from above, are just doing their thing socializing in the open water.

Swans in open water
Swans in open water

Tundra Swans

There are three species of Swans in Ontario. The Tundra Swan (also known as the Whistling Swan) is native to North America, along with the Trumpeter. Tundra Swans breed in the arctic and subarctic tundra and migrate further south for the winter.

Mute Swans

The third swan species found in Ontario is the Mute Swan but it is not native. Mute Swans are the world’s largest waterfowl species and were introduced to North America in the 1870s by European settlers as decorative creatures for gardens and parks. They are actually an invasive species anywhere other than Europe or Asia.

Trumpeter Swans have been successfully re-established in North America
Swans in the river on a grey day

After reading a little more, I discovered that there are actually Trumpeter Swans and Tundra Swans in my local river, with the Tundra Swans stopping in occasionally on their way south.

19 thoughts on “Winter Swans

  1. Swans are so special (as long as they’re not mad st you!). Beautiful pics; you must live near Stratford.

    1. They are – I’ve had Canada Geese chase me, but not swans! We are a ways away from Stratford, but the Stratford swans are pretty neat too. I feel like there is another swan story coming! Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. “How could such a beautiful bird appear naturally in our harsh climate?”
    This makes me think… How do any of us beautiful creatures survive in this world’s harsh climate?

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