Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Wild wings everywhere

ANTICIPATION WAS HIGH as the full moon crested over Lewis Peak. In this magic twilight hour, the crescendo of wild swan songs was building. My daughter Jenny and I grinned as we unloaded our kayaks onto Rainbow Pond at Harold Crane Waterfowl Management Area. It seemed so appropriate that this was Thanksgiving Day. The cornucopia of my life was overflowing with gratitude to be with my daughter in the marsh that we love.

That night, waterfowl activity seemed to increase with the rising moon. Wild wings were everywhere! We paddled as the spectacular show unfolded under the spotlight of the moon. The drake pintails were handsome greeters with their tuxedo-like plumage. A barn owl hovered overhead, ushering our way to the wild stage before us. Green-winged teal introduced the show as they propelled like fireworks over the vegetation, and then down over the water. This evening, they were the supporting cast to the greatest and most literal Swan Lake performance!

Upwards of 35,000 tundra swans migrate through Utah every March.

Excitement, grace and drama filled the air as over 1,000 wild tundra swans winged their way to Rainbow Pond. We sat still in reverence, not wanting to miss a single move or sound. Family groups of migrating swans flew high above us and then suddenly tumbled downward, whiffling towards the water and a feast of succulent sago pondweed.

The swans rocked back and forth on the water, using their giant feet to pull plants from the pond bottom. Then, they plunged their long necks down to gather up their meals. Widgeons and canvasbacks waited for the swan heads to go below the water, and then they’d swipe the scraps of pondweed the swans worked so hard to get!

There was pondweed everywhere. We dug it up in our hands to feel the stringy strands that are a critical food source to swans and other wildlife. The moon grew high in the sky, and the swans settled into a night of feeding and loafing and crooning their songs as we exited, paddling silently from the pond. The smiles never left our faces!

It’s thrilling to witness this ageless story of adaptation, survival and beauty that plays out each spring and fall in the marshes of Utah.

Swans fly at sunset during last year's Tundra Swan Day.

Seeing wild swans with my family adds great richness to my life. In our home, we have a spotting scope set up so we can watch the swans that visit the ponds behind us each spring at Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area.

In addition to my family experiences, I am grateful that my job allows opportunities for me to introduce people to Utah’s wild swans. One of these opportunities occurs every March at the annual Tundra Swan Day celebration held at Farmington Bay and Salt Creek Waterfowl Management areas. This year, we will hold the event on March 10, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at both locations.

I created Tundra Swan Day 11 years ago to help others enjoy and appreciate wild swans as a part of Utah’s great wildlife tradition. I am thrilled when families and other wildlife enthusiasts come out to witness one of Utah’s great wildlife species!

For more information on Utah’s wild swans, see the Tundra Swan fact sheet, one of 20 in the notebook series of wildlife in Utah, at http://wildlife.utah.gov/publications/pdf/tundra_swan.pdf.

Editor’s note: Rainbow Pond is closed in the spring to protect nesting waterfowl. If you aren’t able to attend Tundra Swan Day, you may still be able to see the swans. During their spring migration, tundra swans are often visible in the northeast river impoundment at Ogden Bay. You can access the impoundment from 12th Street at 7500 West in West Warren.