This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the trumpeter swan.
Many of us are familiar with the sight of a trumpeter swan on Pinon Lake, but these birds are not native to our area. Around 20 years ago, the then-owners of the Pagosa Lodge purchased a pair of trumpeter swans believing that swans would control the population of Canada geese. The original pair were pinioned and unable to fly. For years, swans bred and raised cygnets on Pinon Lake, until four years ago when two were hit by a car while crossing U.S. 160, leaving behind the one we see today.
One of the heaviest flying birds in the world, the trumpeter swan occurs naturally in Alaska and Canada, and northern states in winter. It is distinguished from the similar, but smaller, tundra swan by differences in bill and head shape and calls.
The trumpeter eats mainly aquatic vegetation by reaching under water with its long neck or tipping upside down like a duck. On land, it will eat grasses and grains.
Family bonds are important to these birds, with young birds learning survival skills and migration routes from older relatives.
Nearly extinct by the early 1900s, trumpeter swan numbers have rebounded, but lead poisoning is among current threats. According to the Trumpeter Swan Coalition, “It only takes accidentally eating one lead pellet or fishing sinker to kill a trumpeter swan.”
Also, Parks and Wildlife reminds us that feeding bread to this bird or other waterfowl is harmful for their bone development and subjects them to danger when they lose their natural inhibition around people and traffic.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.