There was a time when the Bay of Quinte region had no swans. Hard to believe.
The Trumpeter Swan had long been extirpated from the region due to hunting; the Mute Swan had not yet found its way into the region; and we were so far removed from the normal migration route of Tundra Swans, that seeing one in the area was an unusual event.
Today, all that has changed. There are three species common to our area. We can now count the day lost when we don’t spot a swan somewhere in Bay of Quinte waters.
Perhaps the most obvious is the Mute Swan. Despite their name, they do have a voice, albeit muffled. Mute Swans are not native to this area; they were introduced many years ago as an ornamental swan for parks and other confined areas. A few eventually escaped into the wild and by 1958, were actively breeding, and multiplying, in the Great Lakes. The very first Mute Swan made its debut in the Quinte region at Consecon Lake, in 1963. The Great Lakes population has since expanded to an estimated 10,000, doubling every five years or so. In fact, the Prince Edward County and Quinte region in general, probably harbour the largest breeding population of Mute Swans in eastern Ontario.
Tundra Swan – Stephen Poole
For many years, the Mute Swan’s counterpart, the much smaller Tundra Swan, formerly known as the Whistling Swan, was also a rare occurrence in our area. An Arctic breeder whose home is so far north that it barely touches Ontario, thousands migrate from wintering grounds at Chesapeake Bay, and pass over Lake Erie every March. In recent years, their migration route has expanded, and Tundra Swans are commonly seen in our region too each spring and fall. Twenty years ago, it was also rare for a Tundra Swan to show up anywhere in our region during winter; they always migrated to Chesapeake Bay. Today, large numbers are now wintering here as more open conditions during winter offer shelter, while an abundance of zebra mussels provide adequate food for their stay.
The Trumpeter Swan is even larger than either the Tundra or Mute Swan and resembles the Tundra Swan so closely that it takes a trained eye to separate the species when viewed from a distance. The larger size and some facial features around the forehead separate the Tundra from the Trumpeter. It has been only in recent years that the Trumpeter Swan has been added to the swan species regularly seen in our area now. Trumpeter Swans once nested across eastern North America in pre-colonial times, but were extinguished by early European settlers before the mid-1800s. By 1900, they were nearly extinct and survived only in remote parts of Alaska, Alberta, and the Greater Yellowstone region. Retired Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources employee, Harry Lumsden, initiated a re-introduction program in Ontario in 1982. Birds were released at over 50 sites, including the Wye Marsh in 1982, and at Prince Edward County in 2006. In Prince Edward County, those releases took place at Big Island, near Demorestville (15 birds), and the following week, at Huff’s Island (11 birds).
In 1993, the first wild nesting in Ontario occurred at Wye Marsh and nesting Trumpeter Swans can now be found in isolated locations throughout the areas of release. Historically, Trumpeter Swans also migrated in winter to Chesapeake Bay, but having lost their migratory instinct over the last 100 years of near absence from our area, Trumpeter Swans now wander around locally seeking any open water free from ice, where they can spend the winter.
While many bird species are declining dramatically in numbers, it is encouraging to see the swan family doing well and establishing their niche in the Bay of Quinte region. Despite the current concerns over the burgeoning Mute Swan populations, all swan species appear to be getting along amicably, adding a sense of majesty and gracefulness on our local waters. Sometimes, in our tampering with Mother Nature, we can produce some unexpected results. A successful re-introduction of a native species, too much of a good thing with a non-native species, and changes in wintering and feeding behaviour of a migratory species.