When asked about trumpeter swans, James J. Audubon once said, “You must observe them when they’re not aware of your proximity.” His advice still rings true today.
Trumpeter swans are extremely skittish, especially during nesting periods. Be cautious when viewing swans and never approach nesting swans.
Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl native to North America. The all white adults can have a wingspan as great as 8 feet and weigh nearly 30 lbs.
In the 1930’s it was believed that less than 100 trumpeters remained in the wild. Habitat loss, market hunting, and their reclusive nature all contributed to the population decline. Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, just west of Yellowstone, was formed in 1935 to protect the trumpeter swan.
Trumpeters build their nests with pond vegetation like cattail or bulrush. Nests can be 5 feet wide and weigh hundreds of pounds. Predators and flooding are the biggest dangers for nesting swans.
Trumpeter swans often mate for life. Starting in June, the female, or pen, will lay one cream colored egg every day or two until she has 4 to 6 eggs. It takes just over one month for the eggs to hatch. The young swans, called cygnets, are gray for the first year. Cygnets fledge, or fly for the first time, in September.
As many as 350 swans call the greater Yellowstone region home. In 2006, 14 adult trumpeter swans lived in the park.
Overall, trumpeter swans are rare in Yellowstone. Winter remains the best time to see them here. Swans that summer north of here return to this area in the winter. I hope that on your next trip to Yellowstone you get to experience the beauty, strength and grace of these magnificent birds.