Trumpeter swans flock to lake near Heber Springs

Trumpeter swans near Heber Springs include white adults and grayish juveniles. The smaller birds are mostly ring-necked ducks. JOE MOSBY PHOTO

 

Before you step out of the vehicle at little Magness Lake, roll down a window and listen. You’ll know why the big, stately, beautiful birds are named trumpeter swans.

They are another Arkansas wildlife success story, although it has a touch of mystery. Nobody can fully explain why these birds took a liking to this one small oxbow lake a few miles east of Heber Springs in Cleburne County. 

It was in the early 1990s, and three swans showed up on Perry Linder’s farm. He welcomed them, doled out whole kernel corn, and their numbers have been growing since.

Today the trumpeter swans are a tourist attraction, somewhat along the line of the elk in Boxley Valley in northwest Arkansas. People come from all over to look at the swans, and the birds are cooperative. The visitors arrive in cars, pickups and church buses. Cameras are busy.

Many of these visitors drop in at nearby restaurants, convenience stores and, occasionally, motels.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the count was 212 swans. With them were hundreds of ducks and a few geese. Ring-necked ducks outnumbered the swans. Dozens of mallards were mixed in along with a few buffleheads and other ducks.

Linder sold the property to the Eason family a few years back, and protective fencing plus an informational sign have been installed. The fence prevents falls down a steep bank on the south side of the lake near the road.

The swans and the ducks don’t go hungry. An automatic feeder dispenses whole kernel corn regularly, and the birds have learned to anticipate this. Visitors are strongly urged to feed only corn and not bread, potato chips and other items.

Many visitors bring binoculars and telephoto lenses for their cameras, but these really aren’t necessary. The swans usually are close at hand — 20, 30, 50 feet away from the fence at the viewing area.

The swans will be at Magness Lake until late February or early March, then they’ll fly back to their breeding grounds in the Upper Midwest.

Here are a few basics of the Magness Lake trumpeter swans:

What is a male swan called, a female swan?

A male is called a cob. The female is called a pen and the young of the year are called cygnets.

What do trumpeter swans eat?

Adult swans eat aquatic vegetation, including the leaves, seeds, and roots of many types of pond weeds. In captivity, swans will eat corn and other grains provided. Wild swans have also adapted to field feeding, eating left over grains and vegetables that have been harvested by farmers.

Where do the trumpeter swans come from?

Most of the swans at Magness Lake are from Minnesota. Others are from Wisconsin, Iowa and a few perhaps from upper Michigan.

How many eggs do trumpeter swans lay?

They lay, on the average, three to eight eggs. Only one clutch of eggs is laid per year. The swans build their nests out of stems and leaves from plants such as cattails and sedges. Trumpeters often nest on top of muskrat or beaver lodges.

How big are trumpeter swans?

They are the largest waterfowl in North America, weighing 25 to 30 pounds. Wing span is about 8 feet. In comparison, the giant subspecies of Canada geese living in Arkansas weigh about 12 pounds. Snow geese weigh about 7 pounds.

Where can I see trumpeter swans in Arkansas?

The established viewing area is at Magness Lake, a small, 30-acre oxbow off Little Red River east of Heber Springs. 

Drive east on Arkansas Highway 110 from its intersection with Arkansas Highways 5 and 25 just east of Heber Springs. Go 3.9 miles from the intersection to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, on the right and marked with a white sign. Turn left on Hays Road, a paved county road. Magness Lake is about a half-mile down this road, and a gravel parking area is at an S curve in the road.

Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at jhmosby@cyberback.com.

 

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