Tundra Swan - Cygnus columbianus
February 15, 2008
Every once in awhile I will arrive at the Bird Division prep lab to find a large Tundra swan waiting to be prepared on one of the larger tables. I haven't prepared one as a study skin yet. The two that I have seen were being preserved for their skeletons. I know the birds are going to be preserved carefully, and put to good use in the museum collections, but I have to say that a dead swan is a sad sight. Their large, snowy white bodies, and gracefully snaking necks are beautiful even in the the stillness of death. One of the two was a juvenile, and appeared to have died by getting some sort of blockage in its esophagus.
Tundra swans were formerly known as Whistling swans, and they can be easily mistaken for another North American species: the Trumpeter swan. Trumpeter swans have a couple of subtle characteristics that distinguish it from the Tundra. Trumpeters lack the yellow spot on the bill that adult Tundras possess, and in general their bill shape is more wedge shaped. The Tundra is the more numerous of the two, and breeds in arctic wetlands. I have seen a species of swan up at the Chicago Botanic gardens during migration seasons, but I am not sure which of the two. I only know for sure that it was not the feral Mute swan. Mute swans are an aggressive species introduced from Europe, and are quite common. They are larger in overall size than the Tundra and Trumpeter, and adults have bright orange bills. This is a larger painting than I typically do, and so it did not fit on my wee scanner bed.