Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus; originally Common American Swan/Cygnus Americanus)
The park swan, which floats about in narcissistic adoration, comes from Europe. But we do have two native swans, magnificent untamed birds that were here when the first anchor chains rattled off the coast. One, the trumpeter swan of the northwest, has become one of the rarer North American birds. The other, the tundra swan, or common American swan as Audubon called it, is doing very well these days.
Tundra swans spend the summer north of the Arctic Circle, north and west of Hudson Bay. Forty to fifty thousand of them might be scattered in pairs and little groups over thousands of square miles of tundra. When ice begins to lock the bays, they start southward in long gooselike wedges, conversing excitedly with whoops and soft trumpeting laughter. Then comes a parting of the ways: one large faction splits off to the west, heading for the great central valleys of California. The rest proceed to the Atlantic, past Lake Huron and Lake Erie, where some rest for a while, then across the Appalachian ridges to the broad waters of the Chesapeake and the bays of North Carolina.
It is a long journey. Occasionally in spring, when returning flocks rest on the Niagara River, some have been carried by the swift current over the falls.
See more of Audubon’s original work reproduced online here.