The world’s largest waterfowl, these swans boast wingspans as wide as eagles (7 feet) and can weigh up to 40 pounds. They’re pure white and so have figured prominently over the centuries in legends, drama, music, and metaphor. They fly as fast as 60 mph and as high as 10,000 feet on their migrations from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest for the winter (though a group of 500 overwinter in Alaska). They live to be 30 years old and have a hornlike call, which accounts for their common name.
In 1933, trumpeter populations hit an all-time low of 33 individuals in the Lower 48—having been hunted for their meat, down, and quills. But several thousand swans were seen by Alaskan bush plane biologists in the early 1950s, and by the early 1970s, trumpeters were removed from the Endangered Species list.
Today, of the nearly 12,000 swans in North America, about 10,000 spend their summers in Alaska, 2,000 of them in the Copper River delta. A great place to see them is on the Copper River Highway from Cordova to the Million Dollar Bridge.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition