There are lots of ways to compare birds: wingspan, total length and weight are just three of them. But the heaviest native North American bird is the Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, which can weigh from 22 to 30 pounds.
Long-lived but slow reproducing, Trumpeter Swans were nearly extirpated in the Lower 48, although they don’t seem to have been in serious trouble in Alaska or Canada. An introduced Eurasian species, the Mute Swan, is nearly as large. There are heavier flighted birds; many adult Andean Condors weigh a little more, and several African species are heavier. But among native North American species, the Trumpeter is the biggest bird by mass.
Trumpeter Swans generally, but not absolutely, mate for life. Typically, they don’t breed until age 5-7. They lay just one egg and jointly brood the egg and raise the cygnet. The slow reproductive rate makes them susceptible to overhunting and habitat loss.
Despite their remarkable size, they are elegant and graceful in flight. And noisy; their calls – trumpeting – carry for miles. It’s not uncommon for the birds to be flying too high to be seen without binoculars, but for the trumpeting to be easily audible. With an incubation period of some 37 days, and another 3-4 months for the cygnets to be ready for fall migration, Trumpeters are among the first birds to arrive in the spring and the last to leave in fall.
The Trumpeters are at Creamer’s Field right now, joining Canada Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese and the smaller Tundra Swans as the first arrivals. It’s worth a visit.