North Carolinaplays a vital role in the yearly cycle of the Eastern Population of tundra swans, wintering more swans, by far, than any other state on the East Coast. Each fall, approximately 65 – 75 thousand swans migrate to northeastern North Carolina to take advantage of the abundant food sources found in our lakes, sounds and farms. The approximately 25 thousand remaining swans in this population winter in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and New Jersey. A separate Western Population exists that winters in several western states including California, Nevada, and Utah.
The large, white, readily observable bird, is a favorite among birders and considered a trophy to hunters. North Carolina is one of only a few states where the hunting of tundra swans is allowed. Swan hunting here follows strict guidelines with only 5000 permits issued annually. Because of our large wintering flock and permit allocation, North Carolina waterfowlers harvest more tundra swans than any other state. Virginia is currently the only other state along the eastern seaboard to hold a limited hunting season. Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota also have limited hunting seasons while swans are passing through on their fall migration.
Tundra swans should not be confused with the larger trumpeter and mute swans. Trumpeter swans are found almost exclusively in the mid-west and western states. Mute swans are generally non-migratory and can be found scattered throughout North Carolina. They are a non-native species that can be quite aggressive when approached.
Currently, tundra swan populations are monitored in several ways. Each year, all states along the East Coast conduct a mid-winter waterfowl inventory. This low-level aerial survey occurs in early January and all waterfowl are counted in selected areas.
Productivity surveys are also conducted each fall to give biologists an indication of the previous years breeding and nesting success. These surveys indicate that while there are annual fluctuations in population size and productivity, the Eastern Population of tundra swans has greatly increased over the last 40 years.
North Carolina along with other swan hunting states also estimate their annual harvest of swans. This information provides us with long-term insight into the effects of hunter harvest on overall population size and growth.
Although all of our current data suggests that the tundra swan population in recent years is stable, it is incumbent upon North Carolina to take the lead in the proper management of this resource. In 1999, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission initiated a 5-year multi-agency project looking at several aspects of tundra swan ecology. Specifically, we hope to gain a better understanding of annual survival rates, local wintering ground movements, migration chronology, and key breeding areas. While North Carolina will be providing the lion’s share of the data, other states that winter tundra swans are involved and the project will provide a comprehensive look at the entire Eastern Population of tundra swans. Cooperators in the project include: Delta Waterfowl Foundation, New York Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Currently, tundra swan populations are monitored in several ways. Each year, all states along the East Coast conduct a mid-winter waterfowl inventory.
North Carolina, along with other swan hunting states, estimates their annual harvest of swans.