October 3 – Trump This

Today’s factismal: The trumpeter swan is the heaviest living bird native to North America and the biggest living waterfowl anywhere in the world!

There is indescribable beauty in the dance of a hummingbird, as it flits from flower to flower. And the tiny Least Auklet has a googly-eyed grace that charms. But this is America, home of the SUV, the 128 oz soda, and XXX t-shirt; we need a big bird to match our big lives. And that’s exactly what we’ve got – the trumpeter swan, the world’s largest waterfowl.

Though the trumpeter swans’ wings stretch out just over eight feet wide (more than a foot shorter the California Condor’s 9 ft, 10 in), its weight makes it the champ. A typical adult male trumpeter swan (a cob) will weigh 26 lbs while an adult female (a pen) will tip the scales at a dainty 21 lbs. And some individuals have been known to grow to nearly 40 lbs! But this is a gentle giant, who prefers to live on small islands in secluded ponds where its nests are safe from predators such as otters, foxes, raccoons, bears, and wolves.

Three trumpeter swans in flight (Image courtesy US Army Corps of Engineers)

Three trumpeter swans in flight
(Image courtesy US Army Corps of Engineers)

And the giant is a vegetarian, too. Though the cygnets (baby swans) are fed a diet rich in insects, crawfish, and small fish that provide the protein needed for their rapid growth, the adults prefer to munch on the leaves, stems, seeds, and even roots of water plants. Unfortunately, that love of small, swampy plants has led to one of the greatest threats to the trumpeter swan: buckshot. The shot that misses ducks and other waterfowl will fall into the water where it can be ingested by trumpeter swans. When they regurgitate the shot as a meal for their cygnets, the adults unwittingly cause lead poisoning in their offspring. Fortunately, the adults are somewhat more resistant to lead poisoning, thanks to their greater mass.

However, the other form of lead poisoning has already done a job on trumpeter swan numbers where they used to roam from Alaska to Texas, today they are only rarely found farther south than. Fortunately, the numbers are slowly making a comeback from their lows in the early part of the previous century. And right now is the perfect time to start looking for trumpeter swans as they migrate from their summer homes in Alaska to their winter quarters in Montana, Colorado, and Ontario. If you happen to see one flying by, then why not pause for a moment to enjoy the sight of North America’s largest bird in flight and then head over to Trumpeter Watch to let them know about your sighting?

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