Missouri is home to three giant white swan species that can be difficult to distinguish without a bit of training or education. All three swans belong to the genus Cygnus and rank among the largest waterfowl on the planet. The first species we will consider is the Trumpeter Swan (C. buccinator). Ranked as both the largest waterfowl species in the world and the largest flying bird of North America, the Trumpeter Swan is considered a conservation success. Beginning in the 1600s the birds were collected for their meat, skins and feathers. This unregulated slaughter lasted until the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which provided the species some protection. Their population rebounded from a level as low as 32 birds documented in 1932 to 15,000 – 20,000 estimated today. Trumpeter Swans only winter in Missouri, spending their summer nesting season from the upper great plains up to Alaska. As many as 600 birds have been counted at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary during a winter season.
The Tundra Swan (C. columbianus) are more widespread across North America compared to its larger relative, the Trumpeter. And, although they far outnumber the Trumpeter in total population, the Trumpeter is actually the more abundant winter resident in Missouri. For reasons unknown, this winter we have seen an unusually high number of the comparatively rare Tundra, giving birders something to be excited about.
In single species groups, especially at a distance, the two species can be challenging to tell apart. However, when seen up close and spaced closely together, the differences are more easily identified. On average, the Tundra is 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the Trumpeter. In addition the border of the black color surrounding the bill is different in the two species and the Tundra usually has a yellow spot on the lores, near the base of the bill. I’ll guide you to your favorite field guide for more specifics. With this information, can you spot the four Tundras in the image below?
Here is a closeup of the two species in flight. Easy to spot the Tundra here. Right?
It was such a treat being able to watch a group of Tundras carrying on…
Finally, our last (and quietest) of Missouri’s Cygnus – the Mute Swan (C. olor). The Mute is native to the old world and exists in North America as a naturalized resident. Still raised and sold on the captive market, the Mute is typically a year-round resident in these parts, moving only to find open water in the dead of winter. These birds are easily recognized by the large, orange-collored bills, often with a bulge at its base. I photographed this pair at Binder Lake S.P.
There you are, a quick overview of the Missouri’s white giants.
Thanks for the visit.
A few random shots of Trumpeter Swans taken at RMBS this winter…
Hello again and happy holidays.
These five were all taken at the confluence, either at RMBS or CBCA.
This gorgeous juvenile light-phase Rough-legged Hawk spent nearly a week at the confluence recently. These infrequent winter residents nest up north, far north, like arctic circle north. One of my favorite birds, it is always a pleasure to find one of these guys. Sarah and I very much enjoyed this bird, nearly the size of a Red-tailed Hawk, as it hover-hunted much like what is seen by the American Kestrel.
Steve and I were tipped off to these Ross’s Geese at Teal Pond by a kind birder. I can’t imagine a cuter bird. Well, maybe a few.
This has really been my year with the Harriers. I don’t know if it is luck, patience, or what. This one drifted by closely yo me at CBCA recently.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the dark-phase Red-taileds invaded the confluence area. I do not believe I have ever seen such a dark RTHA on the eastern side of Missouri before this one.
This handsome young Kestrel was quite cooperative in posing for me recently at RMBS.
At riverine locals like RMBS, the warbling song of the Warbling Vireo can be heard all day long throughout the summer. However, they have always given me grief when it came to getting a photograph – lurking shyly among the leafy branches of the Cottonwood. This year, I hit a trail where I know they set territories for nesting. Early in the spring, before the leaves expanded, I was able to follow this guy as he made the rounds and get some photos.
This image is from a series I took early this summer at Colombia Bottom Conservation Area. These two dancing birds were among a large group of Great Egrets competing for standing room only space in a shrinking pool that was loaded with fish. These moves reminded me of the dancing and rhyming styles of that old hip hop dynamic duo of my youth, Kid ‘n Play. If I ever get around to processing all the keepers from this series, you will definitely not want to miss the shot I took of the bird I was able to get to wear a “Kid wig”. 😉
Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody… We Just Dancin’ Ya’ll!
“Kid ‘n Play”