Tuesday, 24 March 2015

B.O.T.D. Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

Yes, the tundra swan does indeed sing a beautiful and haunting death song. In 1898, Daniel G. Elliot, a noted authority on ducks, swans and geese who knew every sound a tundra swan ordinarily uttered, wrote of having been with a hunting party on Currituck Sound, North Carolina, when a member of his group shot and mortally wounded a swan flying overhead. The swan set its wings and, Elliot wrote, "sailing slowly down, began its death song, continuing it until it reached the water nearly a half a mile away." The song was not like any other swan note he had ever heard. Elliot inquired among local hunters and found that they too had heard that sand and beautiful song as a dying swan fell through the air.

Then, in 1955, H. A. Hochbaum, a scientist who specialized in the study of waterfowl, observed that before they take off into the air, tundra swans always sing what he chose to call a departure song. The reputable authority John K. Terres later described this departure song as "one of the most beautiful utterances of waterfowl - a melodious, soft, muted, series of notes ..."  Hochbaum himself believed that the departure song was "probably the swan song of legend, for when a swan is shot and falls crippled to the water, it utters this call as it tries in vain to rejoin its fellows in the sky."

Cornell Lab: Tundra Swan

Reader's Digest: Book of North American Birds