Just passing through: head to The Pinery to see and hear migrating tundra swans

Photo Credit: Alf Rider

How cool would it be to close your eyes and hear thousands of birds yodeling en masse as they lift off in search of their next feeding ground? 

“You’ll never forget it, once you experience it,” says The Pinery’s natural heritage educator Alistair Mackenzie.

If you head to The Pinery Provincial Park (about 230 km southwest of Toronto) over the next few weeks, you might just see and hear up to 60,000 tundra swans passing through on their way to their Arctic breeding ground.  Starting from their southern winter home in Chesapeake Bay and moving north, the swans are in a race against time to reach their final breeding ground at Hudson Bay.  But don’t wait—the swans will likely be gone by the last week of March or first week of April.  And if there’s too much snow, they may overfly The Pinery altogether or stop in smaller numbers.


An ancient journey

 “This is a really fascinating event,” says Mackenzie

Photo Credit: Alf Rider

“What’s incredible is that the swans are following the same route the glaciers took when they retreated north after the last ice age. For thousands of years, the tundra swans have been nesting and breeding in Arctic-like conditions. Right now it’s up at Hudson Bay.  But thousands of years ago, it would’ve been in these parts of southern Ontario. Then as the ice retreated, they followed northward. Now their migratory routes essentially follow that retreat. They’ll fly as far north as possible and find staging areas like The Pinery where they’ll bed down for a period of hours to days and replenish their resources. They’ll rest and feed and drink and just get prepared for the next leg of the journey.”

“It’s a marvelous natural spectacle to see this. It makes me humble when you think about how easy our lives are.”

Pretty cool, eh?



Family fun

The return of the tundra swans is an experience the whole family can enjoy; the little ones will love hearing how the swans travel as a family, bringing their babies from last year with them on this primal journey.  Make a game of it by asking your kids to spot the babies by their grayish necks; also, see if kids can guess what the swans are feeding on (answer: agricultural residue such as soybeans, corn, mollusks and snails).  And get them to guess how many feathers they have (incredibly, it’s more than 28,000, the largest of any known species on the planet).  No wonder they head north every summer—it would be like wearing a down-filled coat year-round!

Speaking of coats, make sure you dress warmly for your swan-gazing trip and bring binoculars just in case.  Park staff will be on hand to answer questions. 

The Pinery will be posting up-to-the-minute updates on swan arrivals at

www.twitter.com/The PineryProvPark,

https://www.facebook.com/The PineryProvPark

http://www.ontarioparks.com/park/The Pinery

You can also call the park at 519-243-2220.  


Cool facts about tundra swans  

  • 52″ (132 cm) wingspan
  • 14.4 lbs (6, 600g) body mass
  • Voice is a “melancholy, clear, singing klooo or kwooo with hooting or barking quality,” says the Sibley Guide to Birds of North America.
  • Lay a single clutch of three to seven eggs


Tundra swans are just one of the cool things at The Pinery.  Want to see more?  Check out this video!