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THE OUTDOORS ALMANAC | FIELD GUIDE

Tundra swan

November 08, 2005

(LA)[ CYGNUS COLUMBIANUS ]

Barely seen against the milky autumn sky, flocks of high-flying tundra swans arrive in California this month. As if excited to be back after traveling thousands of miles from the northernmost fringes of the arctic, they descend on the fields and marshes of the Central Valley with exuberant hooting cries. Once on the ground, they are immediately recognizable by their long neck, huge size and white feathers. In marshy areas, they use their necks to reach underwater and pull up nutritious roots and tubers. But as marshland becomes scarcer, the swans are increasingly congregating -- sometimes by the thousands -- in grain fields where they browse on waste grain. Later in November, a few swans may start pushing farther south, making a welcomed arrival throughout Southern California.

NATURAL HISTORY

Swans, which can live more than 20 years, mate for life. Parents and young migrate and spend the winter together as a family unit, separating for the first time when they arrive back at their breeding grounds the following spring.

KEY CHARACTERISTICS

Weighing 14 pounds and with a wingspan of 5 feet, it's one of the largest waterfowl in North America; best recognized by the yellow spot on the

upper edge of its black bill.

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