This week’s cold weather bought winds from the north and flocks of tundra swans over western Pennsylvania. We usually hear them first, rush out to see them fly … and then they’re gone.
Where did they come from? Where are they going?
Most of “our” tundra swans breed in the north central territory of Canada (Nunavut) and north of Hudson Bay. This map from Xeno Canto shows their path in North America. (Breeding range is pink. Migration corridors are greenish yellow. Wintering sites are blue. I’ve added a purple dot for our location in western Pennsylvania.)
In late September tundra swan families assemble into flocks. Then “our” swans move south through Canada’s prairies, arriving in North Dakota and the upper Mississippi River valley in early October where they eat and wait until winter hits.
On winter’s first blast they fly southeast to Chesapeake Bay and eastern North Carolina, passing over Pennsylvania on their way.
Tundra swans typically fly 30 miles per hour but on a strong northwest wind they can clock 100 mph and fly non-stop for 1,000 miles.
Most flocks don’t stop in western Pennsylvania but they take a break here if the “kids” get tired. That’s what happened on Tuesday at Crooked Creek Lake.
Marge Van Tassel and a group of volunteers heard the swans coming and drove to a good vantage point to watch them come in. Marge’s photo shows them descending to the lake like large beautiful snowflakes.
Listen for their sound overhead and you may see tundra swans, too.
(photo credits: flock in flight by Steve Gosser, flock landing by Marge Van Tassel, map and audio clip recorded in Michigan by Allen T. Chartier, #XC11851 from Xeno Canto)