Elms Environmental Education Center

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Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

January 2018: Tundra Swan

Tundra Swans


Tundra Swan
Cygnus columbianus

Who am I?

 I am America's most abundant swan. I whistle when I fly so some people call me "whistling swans". Like all swans I am huge and white. Don't mistake me for those huge british interlopers, mute swans, with their garish orange beaks. We are small and elegant, black and white, and rather sociable, at least with others of our kind. My mate and I will build our nests in the arctic tundra laying 5-6 eggs. After about a month the eggs hatch. Our babies are called "cygnets". We will stay together as a family for a couple of months until the cygnets are able to fly. 

Where can you find me?

 During the spring and summer we are in the arctic tundra. During winter we head south as far as the Chesapeake Bay.

What do I eat?

 We eat plants. We are dabblers, reaching our long necks down deep below the water to graze on plants that are growing there. In wintertime, in the Chesapeake, we eat mostly clams that we dig up from the mud.

What might eat me?

 Lots of critters including foxes, wolves, eagles, crows, ravens, people, bears and weasels.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  •  The Lewis and Clark expedition first found and named me the "whistling swan".
  • Gulls and other birds will steal clams from the tundra swans during their winter stay in the Chesapeake.
  • We are symbols of the romantic in everyone, indeed we will find a mate when we are three years old and then stay together for life.
  • We can live up to 23 years old.

February 2018: Barrows Goldeneye


Barrows Goldeneye
[Scientific name]

Who am I?

I am a small diving duck that usually lives on the west coast of North America -- migrating from southern Alaska and the Yukon Territory to northern California for the summers. There is a small group of us that hang out in the Northeast corner of Canada. For the past couple of years I, a lone female, have been spending my winters on the East Coast of the US, at the Elms Environmental Education Center. I have raised quite a stir, attracting all kinds of humans who, thankfully, just want to take a look at me. I look a lot like the Common Goldeneye, which lives in the east, except my beak is all orange where the Common Goldeneye just has a bit of color on the tip of its beak. I am not too fussy about where I lay my eggs or even keeping track of my babies. I will build a nest in a cavity somewhere, usually a tree, or lay eggs in another bird's nest. I can lay a lot of eggs -- up to twenty-eight of them. My babies will leave the nest within a couple of days of hatching.

Where can you find me?

 Normally, my kind can be found in Southern Alaska in the winters and Washington State in the summer. Or just pop down to the Elms to check me out. (I will not be around if the bay is frozen or during high winds.)

What do I eat?

 I eat mostly things like crabs and shrimp and fish eggs, though sometimes fish and a few veggies just to stay regular.

What might eat me?

 Eagles. Eagles. Eagles. And bears, raccoons, martens, owls, hawks, weasels, and sometimes large fish.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  •  I was named after Sir John Barrow, who led an expedition to discover the fabled Northwest Passage. Point Barrow -- the northern most point in the USA, Barrow Strait, and Barrow sound are all named after him.
  • rarely seen on the east coast of the US.

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