Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator): Barry Kent MacKay

The bird books I cherished in my youth always described the Trumpeter Swan as either endangered and on the road to extinction, or a success story, on its way back from extinction. Over 17,600 swan skins were accounted for in the fur trade bet the Hudson’s Bay Company between 1853 and 1877, and most of those would have been from this species. In 1933 the estimate of less than 70 Trumpeter Swans in the wild was turned around mid-century by the discovery of a population of several thousand, up in Alaska. The species is relatively easy to maintain and breed in captivity, and there is now a healthy wild population. It is very similar to the Tundra Swan (C. columbianus) which breeds mostly above the treeline in tundra less attractive to the 18th and 19th century fur industry, thus was never endangered.

Traditionally Trumpeter Swans bred in forested and mountainous habitats, mostly in midwestern and western regions, but captive breeding and release programmes brought them into the east, and they adapted well to urban and suburban habitats. How far east they originally bred is a matter of conjecture and debate, with some suggesting they may have reached the east coast prior to European colonization. Certainly their traditional migratory route took many in a southeastern direction to the mid Atlantic U.S. region, but that population was entirely eliminated by hunting and the feather trade. The birds where I live, in southern Ontario, derive entirely from released birds, and are, unlike their wild ancestors, essentially non-migratory. They are often quite tame. They associate with non-native Mute Swans (C. olor), whose habits and behaviour are similar, although they feature the loud, discordant, bugling call for which they are named while Mute Swans are indeed mute, but for hissing. Both species are highly defensive of nest and nesting territory.

Like Mutes, they pull up submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation, including leaves, stems, roots and tubers. They may graze on grass or grain in fields and in summer take some animal food such as aquatic insects, small crustaceans, even minnows.  Most of their feeding is done in the water.

This painting is in oils on compressed hardboard and is 30 by 24 inches.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

Studio: (905) 472 9731

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada

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