Readers’ wildlife pictures

December 24, 2013 • 5:40 am

A bevy of trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator), captured in Idaho by reader Stephen Barnard (click to enlarge):

Trumpeter swans

And somebody tell us what the dark birds are—juveniles?

The species is described in Wikipedia as “the heaviest bird native to North America and, on average, the largest extant waterfowl species on earth.” How big are they? (my emphasis):

Adults usually measure 138–165 cm (54–65 in) long, though large males can range up to 180 cm (71 in) or more. The weight of adult birds is typically 7–13.6 kg (15–30 lb), with an average weight in males of 11.9 kg (26 lb) and 9.4 kg (21 lb) in females.The wingspan ranges from 185 to 250 cm (73 to 98 in), with the individual wing chords measuring 60–68 cm (24–27 in). The largest known male Trumpeter attained a length of 183 cm (72 in), a wingspan of 3.1 m (10 ft) and a weight of 17.2 kg (38 lb).


16 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife pictures

  1. Yep, darker ones are this year’s brood. I grew up on the coast in Hampshire (southern UK) and saw a lot of these birds’ cousins, the Mute Swan, Cygnus olor.

    The local millpond has a breeding pair, along with plenty of Mallards, Coots, Moorhens, a flock of Little Egrets plus some Herons. There are occasional problems with dogs/idiots but they regularly raise 2-3 cygnets to adulthood. Fully grown swans are pretty intimidating close up!

    1. Funny that the mute swan is called cygnus olor as olor is a synonym of cygnus. I read it also can poetically mean swan so, in other words the swan is so mute it just gets the word “swan” unlike the loud trumpeter that gets the word “trumpeter” (buccinator).

      Somehow, I find this really funny.

  2. I’m trying to imagine what it takes to get 38 pounds of bird into the air and keep it there, without mechanical assistance.

    I’m not having a lot of success.


      1. For a teenaged (equivalent) bird…that’s huge.

        And look at the musculature on the leading edge of the wings!

        …and it also helps demonstrate the aerodynamic impossibility of angels….


    1. Take off and landing are messy, but once up in the air swans wear their weight very well. Pretty ponderous on land too, but can cover short distances very quickly if annoyed!

  3. Lovely picture. The swans look like they are thinking about something and are vexed about it; like they’ve been somewhat put off.

    1. They were actually pretty relaxed. There was a cold, wet wind from the west and they were facing into it. I was standing on the bed of my pickup to take the photo with a 500mm lens, so I wasn’t very close. (I avoid spooking them whenever possible, but sometimes can’t avoid it while doing normal farm chores.) As Ben Goren suggests, their weight makes them ponderous taking flight, needing a running start. They like to roost in the middle of fields, often with Canada Geese, to have a clear view of approaching predators, with at least one swan keeping watch while the others rest. There were perhaps twice as many in the flock but I couldn’t fit them all into a decent photo.

  4. As Sherlock Holmes said (roughly), “When you eliminate the impossible, what’s left is the truth no matter how improbable.”

    It’s not “impossible” that the dark bird is something other than a juvenile Trumpeter Swan (TrSw), but it sure doesn’t look like an adult of anything else that’s ever been seen in the USA. Although a bit smaller than the adult TrSw in the photo, it’s too big to be any sort of duck or goose. Juvenile Mute or Trundra Swan is not *impossible* in Idaho, but two juvenile of either species hanging out with a otherwise pure flock of TrSw seems highly improbable.

    For nearly all bird species, the young are as large as the adult when they begin to fly. But swans are among the largest of birds, so this need not hold true for them.

    The dark bird appears darker than the typical TrSw juvenile pictured in several field guides, but I seem to recall that young birds still on their natal lakes being fairly dark gray. My field guide shows that they both nest and winter in Idaho.

    So my money is on both dark birds being juvenile Trumpeter Swans. This species, by the way, came very close to extinction but is now rebounding.

    It’s too bad the photographer didn’t supply a photo date. Time of year is often very helpful in ID’ing birds from photos.

  5. It would be great if you could get a picture of a pair of goldeneye ducks, Steve. The difference between the males and females is remarkable. There are hundreds of them on the Snake River as I write this. Unfortunately, I’m not in the same league as you as a photographer.

  6. Was out today a bit up the coast, visiting a nearby village on the water (mentioned in the Bayeux Tapestry for history geeks). Plenty of swans around, including 4 that had taken up residence on a slipway that were completely unfazed by cars, people, dogs. Big old units, as you say.

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