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This Week’s Creature Feature ... Swan Song

Tundra swans prepare for their annual flight north

Chesapeake Country waterways are swan lakes from November to March, as migratory tundra swans weighing as much as 20 pounds move in.
    Some 18,000 of the big birds make Maryland their home. Dabblers, they tip bottom-up to feed on Bay grasses and small clams. They like winter wheat, barley and rye, too, and some of the swans will feed in fields.
    These are their last days with us, as the elegant birds fatten and gather to begin their flight back north.
    “The urge to breed makes them move,” says Larry Hindman, Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ man on waterfowl.
    Where you might have seen a dozen most days, suddenly flocks swell to dozens. Then one night they’ll rise together, form a V and fly north. The flocks reach speeds of 50mph.
    “They’re in no rush to get back because where they’re headed, the north slope of Alaska or Canada, it’s still frozen,” Hindman says.
    Migration is “quite a phenomenon,” he notes. Tundra swans spend about two-thirds of their life in migration.
    “They fly mostly at night,” Hindman says, “and use key landmarks and land features to guide their way as well as the earth’s magnetic field and the position of the stars.”
    With few enemies and seldom hunted, they can live 10 to 20 years, much of it on the wing.
    That’s where to look for them this time of year.