FOR THE BIRDS
There’s a good chance to see swans this Christmas
The only time Nevadans might be thinking of swans may be while they’re singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but this is the time of year when folks can get the chance to see more than seven swans a-swimming in lakes across the state. A good snowstorm in the northern part of the state last week forced swans to be on the move, heading from north to south.
More than 12,000 tundra swans winter in or migrate through Nevada. Tundra swans, also known as whistling swans, are the more numerous of two swan species that are native to North America. They are smaller than trumpeter swans, and are distinguished by all-white plumage, with black beak, legs and feet and a yellow spot between the eye and beak.
Tundra swans breed in the Arctic tundra in the summer, then migrate south along the east and west coasts of North America. Winter storms drive them south to look for food and areas that are ice-free. The western population moves from the arctic and Alaska along the Pacific coast and slightly inland to wintering areas in California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah.
Because it’s a long flight from the tundra, these swans fly many miles during the day and need to stop where there is an abundance of water and a good source of food. Stopover areas may include freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers. Aquatic plants are the preferred food source, but the swans will take advantage of agricultural fields with plenty of grain. They may also consume a small amount of shellfish.
With the help of the Nevada Birds e-mail newsletter, birders have been able to track the swans’ movement. On Dec. 3, a small group was sighted at Pyramid Lake, just north of Reno. Swans were seen leaving Lake Tahoe and Washoe Lake a day later. Then, on Dec. 6, more than 300 swans arrived at Reno, along with a good snowstorm. Swans were also sighted that day in Dayton, east of Carson City. A day later, hundreds of swans were noted flying south and west from Reno and Carson City. They may have been headed for California, or areas farther south in Nevada. “Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and Fallon are popular areas in Nevada to see the wintering swans,” according to Nevada Department of Wildlife game division supervisor Steve Kimble.
Swans can also be seen at several of NDOW’s wildlife management areas, including Kirch. But they don’t go too far south. According to NDOW management area supervisor Keith Brose, “They do visit the Overton WMA, but are relatively uncommon. Swans have been documented to winter on the lower Colorado River, but it is rare.”
Follow the movement of the swans virtually by going to the Nevada Birds listserve at list.audubon.org/archives/nvbirds.html. You can sign up for notification of bird sightings sent to you by e-mail, or peruse the archive of postings without signing up.
And if you are in mid- to northern areas of Nevada during December, and you hear what sounds like a gaggle of geese, look up — you may actually get to see those Christmas swans.