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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.