Another Fowl Arctic Visitor
I know many of us have foul words for the polar vortex pattern this winter. While weather definitely does influence our feathered friends I’m not going to focus on meteorology today. During waterfowl season a hunter harvested an unfamiliar bird to this region, a Longtailed Duck (for more about this duck see A Different Bird Indeed post). Earlier this week a couple of birders and the weekly area waterfowl survey accounted for another member of the waterfowl family that also spends its summers on the arctic tundra wintering at Duck Creek Conservation Area.
Tundras in Missouri
Three to five tundra swans were spotted at different times on Pool 2 in the flooded moist-soil vegetation. This is not the only location in Missouri where tundra swans have been seen this year. In northwest Missouri, there have been sightings at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge earlier in the fall and more recently a couple were recorded on Bob Brown Conservation Area. In mid-Missouri there has been a group of tundra swans on Binder Lake just west of Jefferson City. Finally, just north of St. Louis there have been a few tundra swans mingled in with the hundreds of trumpeter swans on the wetlands surrounding the Riverlands Audubon Center. While the species for other reports is unknown, other groups of swans have been recently seen on the Missouri River west of Booneville, at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and on multiple farm ponds scattered throughout the Ozarks. It seems like quite a winter for swan sightings across Missouri.
Abundance and Range
So what makes this a grand occasion or something notable? Well, although tundra swans are North America’s smallest member of the swan family, they are the most numerous. The eastern breeding population estimate is large enough at approximately 100,000 birds that they can handle a degree of hunting pressure. Folks in the Central Flyway in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota along with hunters in the Atlantic Flyway in North Carolina and Virginia can partake in a swan hunt administered through a permit system.
If tundra swans are abundant enough to hunt in some states, why is a sighting here big news? The eastern tundra swan population’s breeding range extends from the northern slope of Alaska to the eastern side of Hudson Bay in Manitoba. Typically, we think of waterfowl pretty much migrating straight north and south within a single flyway