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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on local landscape and natural history of Pend Oreille County, Washington. A partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department has allowed us to expand this program through EPA funding to include more classes, a newsletter and this website.

Tundra Swans

by Carol Mack


Tundra swans visit Pend Oreille County in large numbers each spring as a resting and fueling stop on their way north to breeding grounds. Our birds spend the summer in and around bodies of water in the coastal lowlands of western Alaska, where they feed on aquatic plants and brood their clutches on mounded nests of vegetation. (The Eastern population of tundra swans nests in northern wetlands from the north slope of Alaska eastward, and winters along the East Coast.) Our western birds mostly winter at Great Salt Lake, Central California, or coastal areas from Portland north to Vancouver Island. But in mild winters with open water, wintering populations tend to disperse widely—as 2005 Pend Oreille Christmas Bird Count numbers show, we had several groups totaling about 50 individuals wintering on the river right here.

We can usually expect to see hundreds of migrating swans at Calispel Lake and along Highway 211 from late February to the middle of March. You can immerse yourself in the surround-sound of the swans and thousands of geese and ducks on Calispell Lake by viewing and listening from Westside Calispell Road. They reach their summer homes in late April to May, and remain there until late September. In the fall, more of the swans follow coastal routes rather than flying inland across Pend Oreille County, and stopovers tend to be much shorter, especially if early winter storms are threatening. Young swans (with grayer plumage) accompany their parents for the first year, presumably learning migration routes and spring feeding areas. Birds leave the wintering grounds at their lowest body weights, so spring migration stops are very
important in building up reserves prior to arriving in Alaska

Tundra Swan Facts (from www.wilderness.org)


Eastern Wintering Population: 75-95,000
Western Wintering Population: 55-70,000

Wing Span (adults): 72-88 inches
Total Length (adults): 48-55 inches
Weight (adults): 10-22 pounds

Clutch Size(Alaska): 2-6 eggs
Egg weight: 10 ounces
Incubation Period: 31-32 days

Age at first flight: 70-75 days
Age at Parental Rejection: 10 months
Age at First Breeding: 3-5 years
Oldest Wild Bird on Record: 23 years 7 months

Max. Migration Distance: 4,200 miles
Max. Sustained Flight Speed: 51 miles per hour
Max. Altitude (migration): 10,000 feet
Normal Altitude (migration): 2,000-4,500 feet

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