Monday, June 2, 2014 Trumpeter Swans nesting

Seward, Alaska

On May 1st, I noted a TRUMPETER SWAN standing on a small island of vegetation in the middle of the wetlands at Mile 1 Nash Road. She was industriously pulling the sedges and grasses towards her, as if making a nest. Over the next several weeks, I saw her sitting there, but not every time. Sometimes she and her mate were off feeding around the pond; sometimes they were nowhere to be found, so it wasn't certain if the nest was active.

But this afternoon, when I saw her sitting there, I think they really meant business. While she presumably incubated her 3 to 8 eggs, the male, called a "Cob," voraciously ate water horsetails right near the road. I wonder how many calories these silica-packed horsetails provide?

According to the Trumpeter Swan Society website, only the female incubates the eggs. The larger and heavier male's job is to guard the nest  from predators. Thus, the female swan, called a "Pen," has faithfully sat on her nest since early May. The female lays one egg every other day until the clutch is complete. Incubation takes about 34 days, so the cygnets could be hatching out in a few weeks, depending on when the last egg was laid.

The website has a link to swan identification information and a nice printable brochure at

So why is a male swan called a "Cob"? According to Wikipedia, the word is from Middle English "cobbe" meaning "leader of a group."

And "Pen"? According to, the flight feathers from the female Mute swan were once used as writing implements, or "pen quills", later know as "quill pens" and then just "pens." Our present day pens take their name from the female swan feathers. Other sites had no idea, so this is a good guess.

Often, these swans are just white dots in the back of the wetlands or invisible, so discovering the handsome Cob right by the road, eating bright green horsetails in the sunshine, was quite a treat!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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