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Tundra swans provide a stark contrast to the arctic landscape. When you first see them
from the air, you wonder what they are - those big white spots. They look out of place against
the blue-grey lakes and the brown, green and crimson of the tundra. Once you see them from the
ground, however - majestic birds against the backdrop of tranquil lakes and lofty mountains -
you know they belong.
Formerly known as “whistling” swans, tundra swans wing their way north each spring to nest
in the remote and undeveloped coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The swans are among the earliest spring migrants, arriving in late May and early June.
Breeding birds fly in as pairs. They build their nests in upland tundra areas near river
deltas along the northern coast. The widely-scattered nests are large mounds of grasses,
sedges, lichens, mosses and feathers.
As many as 150 nests and 500 adult swans have been counted on the coastal plain. The
breeding pairs maintain territories throughout nesting and brood-rearing. The young swans
(cygnets) hatch about a month after egg-laying. Both parents guard the cygnets until they
fledge just before fall migration. The cygnets stay with their parents until they have
returned to the coastal plain the following year.
move around locally, usually in lines low over the tundra. They sometimes form larger flocks
to feed and rest, or search for places to do so. Tundra swans feed on the stems, seeds, roots
and tubers of submerged and emergent aquatic plants.
Just before fall migration, the swans gather along the brackish shorelines of river deltas
to rest and feed. In September they depart the coastal plain in flocks of family groups and
non-breeding birds. The swans migrate, with others from northern Alaska and northwestern Canada,
across the continent to wintering areas on the Atlantic coast from Maryland to North Carolina.
The arctic wetland habitats and quiet solitude of the coastal plain are critically
important to the successful breeding of tundra swans on the Refuge. The birds are an
indicator of the health and productivity of the coastal plain ecosystem. They add a special
grace and beauty to the wondrous place that is the Arctic Refuge.
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at [email protected] and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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