Trumpeter Swans Flourish in Warming Alaska


Trumpeter swans have something to blow their horns about.

After being nearly hunted to extinction by human, the majestic birds (Cygnus buccinator) are now expanding their Alaskan ranges. Ironically, their territorial gains are also related to human activities.

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As global warming slows the onset of the Arctic winter, trumpeters have more time to raise their young, called cygnets, and can raise them in places that used to be too cold, concluded a team of researchers led by Joshua Schmidt a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service. Alaskan trumpeter cygnets need at least 145 days to grow strong enough to make the migration south to ponds that don't freeze over in the winter.

"We found a direct link between temperature and the occupancy of breeding trumpeter swans in Alaska," Schmidt told the DailyClimate. "In warmer periods, there are more pairs observed occupying the summer breeding habitat than in colder periods."

The research is published in BioOne.

Even without the milder winters, trumpeter swans had been on the mend since being heavily hunted throughout the 1600s – 1800s for their feathers and meat. Their large flight feathers were considered to make the finest writing quills. And with adult weights reaching 28 pounds (12.7 kg), there was plenty of meat to entice hunters as well. Even the most famous trumpeter swan, Louis, from E.B. White's classic Trumpet of the Swan, lost his father to a hunter's bullet.

But the species is now officially listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. A study published in 2010 found that their numbers had been steadily increasing since at least the 1960s.

Although things look good for the trumpeter swans, their smaller cousins the tundra swan may be losing ground as trumpeters increase in numbers and breeding territory.

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Trumpeters have the size to push other birds around. They are North America's largest wild fowl with a wingspan of over 6.5 feet (203 cm). The trumpeter swan is also known for their faithfulness to their mates. Swans usually form a pair bond at about age three and stay together for life, though exceptions occur, according to Cornell's Ornithology Lab.

To hear their namesake call, check out Cornell's All About Birds website.



Trumpeter Swan (John James Audubon, Wikimedia Commons)

Trumpeter swan, Cygnus buccinator, brood (Donna Dewhurst, Wikimedia Commons)

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