Capistrano may have its swallows, but Whidbey Island has swans.
Anyone driving through Dugualla Bay flats recently has probably spied the flock of Trumpeter swans rooting around in the corn field remnants of Dugualla Bay Farms. The flock is actually believed to be a small part of a much larger group.
“It’s estimated half of the world’s population of Trumpeter swans winter in Skagit and Whatcom Counties,” said Paul DeBruyn, a Coupeville native and now a wildlife biologist with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“The group on Whidbey is probably a small branch of that bigger population,” continued DeBruyn. “They normally roost in water at night, so we figure they’re most likely going to Cranberry Lake or other nearby lakes to roost. They come back to the corn fields during the day to feed.”
These particular Trumpeter swans come from the interior of Alaska. Tundra swans are smaller than Trumpeter swans and can be found near La Conner this time of year. Both species typically spend four or five months “down south,” arriving in the middle of November and leaving by mid-March, according to DeBruyn.
And the population in general is growing.
“We do an annual census every January and we’re seeing more all the time,” said DeBruyn. “We estimate there’s about 15,000 total.”
A recovering endangered species, Trumpeter swans are North America’s largest native waterfowl. They can reach up to six feet in length and weigh over 25 pounds. Because of their weight, the birds require a “runway” of up to 100 feet to become airborne. Typically, adults will pair off at about three or four years of age and will stay together through the season. It is widely believed the birds mate for life, although they have been known to change mates.
It appears 2015 was a good year for nesting, too. Immature swans, or cygnets, are easy to spot because of their gray color and stick close to their parents.
“You can generally pick out the family groups,” he said. “You’ll see four to five young or immature swans along with a pair of adults. So we’re seeing a lot of large family groups this year.”
DeBruyn said he doesn’t believe the Whidbey Island flock has been a major issue for the Navy aircraft that fly over the flats regularly. He said the main safety problem thus far has been nearby power lines, one of the leading causes of death for the big birds.
“Puget Sound Energy is one of our partners, actually,” he said. “The power lines have been marked to make it easier for the swans to see them, so hopefully we don’t lose them as often by them flying into the lines.”