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Trumpeter Swan

Cygnus buccinator


Adult Trumpeter Swans


In the open areas of water along the Otter Tail River throughout Otter Tail County in Minnesota 1 degree Fahrenheit this day; not sure what the wind chill factor was though. Very cold


I have come to know a family of Trumpeter Swans closer to home that respond to me when I say, "Hello!", to them. They reply back, "Ee-Oh!". This particular family in Fergus Falls (photographed here) however respond to "Hi" saying, "Hi", back in a very raspy but clear voice. Just like the family closer to home, it is only one of the adults that responds vocally. On this day I was sitting on an island of land that juts out into the river, perhaps 50 feet. It took a few hours for the waterfowl to get used to my presence but eventually they went back to doing whatever they would normally be doing. I need to mention here that the waterfowl in this area are frequently fed (corn, bread, red grapes, cut up lettuce, etc...) by humans so they are more humanized than other waterfowl along the river and so are less likely to spook. I have however seen people let their dogs out of their cars to chase them and have also seen children throw things at the birds so while humanized, they're still very cautious of humans. This family of Swans were floating in the river near where I sat and the one adult kept coming to the bank looking up at me. He could have been looking for food but I got the impression he wanted to come out of the water near where I was sitting in the snow. To clam him, I decided to try speaking to him in a calm voice. I said, "Hello. Do you want to come up? Its okay; I won't hurt you. I promise.". "Hi....I love you.". As soon as I said, "Hi", he said, "Hi" before I could finish. I tried it again, "Hi" and again he replied back, "Hi". Soon after that, he exited the river and joined me on the bank. The pair only had one youngster with them who followed dad out of the water. Mom (I'm assuming) was more hesitant and stayed in the water close to the edge of the river bank looking at her mate and child and then at me. To put her at ease, I again tried the magic word, "Hi". Imagine my surprise when behind me and directly into my left ear I hear that raspy, "Hi" from her mate. I almost jumped out of my skin as I'd assumed the male and child would lay down as far away from me as they could get but instead, he'd come up behind me in the snow and was waiting for her to join them. His beak was literally next to my ear but he wasn't acting in any way aggressive or threatening so I didn't move. I did continue to say, "Hi" and he continued to reply back to me for perhaps an hour before I got too cold and had to seek shelter from the wind chill. The female (again, I'm only guessing here) exited the river shortly after her mate whispered in my ear and all three walked around on the snow for a while and eventually lay down right behind me. When I took my leave I was very careful not to spook them by getting up to quickly or unexpectedly. Instead I started talking and explaining that I was cold and had to leave now. As I did this I slowly got on my feet and slightly turned my body towards them before standing up. When I did stand up I did so very gradually and when I eventually walked away I gave them a large birth, all the while talking in a calm but sing-song voice. All three raised their heads up (they'd been tucked into their back feathers, resting) but they all stayed laying in the snow, aware of my movements but otherwise calm and relaxed. I only spent four days in this area this winter but after the first, initial visit the one that said, "Hi" continued to be very vocal, calm and friendly towards me. I never expected this as this was the one winter I couldn't bring any food gifts (whole kernel corn) to share with the waterfowl due to finances. Previously I had thought that perhaps the only reason they were friendly or accepting of me was that they associated me with a free and easy meal. I had also thought that communication or comfort had to build up over a long period of time which this year was four days total spaced weeks apart between visits. Birds in general amaze me in every way but Trumpeter Swans continue to fascinate and inspire me. I knew that certain parrots and other exotic birds could learn how to talk but would never have guessed waterfowl could. This is now the second pair of Trumpeter Swans that have mimicked my greetings to them so I don't think its a fluke or anomaly. Has anyone else ever know waterfowl to speak? Just curious what others have found or experienced...

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Spotted by

Fergus Falls, Minnesota, USA

Spotted on Feb 15, 2014
Submitted on Mar 18, 2014

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