Tundra Swan

The tundra swan migration is well underway at Goose Pond Sanctuary!  

These Holartic swans are on a 1,800 mile fall migration route that began in the high arctic with major stops in North Dakota and along the Mississippi River before they will reach their destination at Chesapeake Bay. White tundra nesting birds are some of the last to migrate into our area and in October, we had a snowy owl and two snow buntings that were early for both species.


Tundra swans usually arrive at Goose Pond in late October but this year three swans were present on October 15th.  Swan numbers did not reach 100 until November 13 when there appeared to be a significant migration out of the northern great plains. The following week tundra swan numbers averaged around 140 birds at Goose Pond.

This year, the swans are feasting on an abundance of arrowhead tubers.  Ideal swan feeding habitat is a shallow prairie wetland covered with arrowheads.  Arrowheads covered Goose Pond this summer but quickly decayed in September.  Mallards also like to feed on arrowhead tubers - which are sometimes aptly called "duck potato".  In most years, diving ducks, like redheads, sometimes are adjacent to the feeding swans waiting for them to dislodge a tuber that they try to capture.  However, this year water levels are low resulting in poor diving duck habitat.  In mid-November the only diving ducks seen were a flock of eight ruddy ducks. 

Some visitors comment on why some swans are gray or dirty looking.  These grayish birds are young swans and contrast greatly with the white adults.  The young swans comprise 11% of this year’s flock compared to 6% in 2014.  The “Class of 2015” is learning the migration route and in a few years they will be able to lead the flock to Goose Pond.  It would be interesting to be able to experience the first fall migration as a young swan on a 1,800 mile long journey with their family.  We assume some of these long-lived birds have visited Goose Pond for many years.

Usually the swans remain as long as there is open water.  The 3,800 Canada geese and 700 mallards pack together with the swans and help keep a small area of open water.  However, if snow and low temperatures materialize like the forecast predicts, swans may leave in a few days.  We invite you to visit Goose Pond sooner rather than later to see these magnificent birds.    

Written by Mark Martin & Sue-Foote Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Managers

Photo by Mark Nenadov, Flickr Creative Commons