in the Waterton Biosphere Reserve

Wanted: Trumpeter Swan Sightings

Striking in size. Whitest of white feathers that inspire paint colour chip names. Wingspan wider than a pick-up truck. Species at risk poster child. Trumpeter swans are undeniably iconic. 

This month the Waterton Biosphere Reserve Association is kicking off a new trumpeter swan project. We want to better understand what waterbodies swans are using locally (e.g., by breeding, post-breeding, or migrating birds) and help landowners understand how to best support this species and the healthy wetland habitat it requires. Your help is necessary to identify waterbodies used by swans and monitor swan numbers on those wetlands.

After suffering devastating impacts from hunting and habitat loss, trumpeter swan populations have rebounded from a historic low of 130 wild swans in Canada and the U.S. in the early 1900s to over 63,000 in the most recent count. While there may be no imminent swan song for trumpeter swans at the continental scale, the breeding subpopulation in southwestern Alberta is not large and is only stable at best. 

Waterton Biosphere Reserve supports breeding swans that are geographically separate from others breeding further north in Alberta or further south in Montana. Continued use of known breeding waterbodies is critical to maintain this species of waterfowl. Swan expansion onto suitable but previously unused waterbodies appears to come from nearby areas as opposed to unfamiliar birds immigrating from more distant areas. 

Photo by Kim Pearson

In addition to our breeding subpopulation, migrating trumpeter swans also use the Waterton Biosphere Reserve area in spring and fall, particularly areas along the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains. Because these migrating swans disperse to their breeding lakes in northern Alberta two to three weeks prior to spring thaw, the birds must arrive there with sufficient energy reserves to begin nesting soon after arrival. Wetlands and waterbodies earlier on their journey, known as stopover sites, are important to help them maintain or gain further energy reserves for these first weeks of breeding. 

The reverse movement pattern occurs in fall: trumpeter swan families and individuals join staging flocks on marshes, rivers, and lakes before heading south as ice begins forming. These stopover wetlands may be more limited in extent than breeding habitat, and maintaining habitat quality and quantity at this restricted network of sites along their flight path through southern Alberta is important.

We are looking for your swan sightings from southwestern Alberta! Have you seen swan pairs with young in the past? Have you seen individuals without young? Have you seen flocks of swans in the spring or fall? Contact us at or 403-563-0058 to discuss where and possibly arrange a visit from Elizabeth Anderson, the Waterton Biosphere Reserve conservation technician. 

We are also looking for volunteer birders to help conduct roadside swan surveys. Spring migration surveys will occur from mid-March to April 30. Swans are extremely sensitive to disturbance during the breeding season (May 1 to July 31), so post-breeding and fall migration surveys will commence after this sensitive period. COVID-19 has limited our opportunities to give back to our communities, but if you enjoy birding and time in nature, this could be a great COVID-safe volunteer opportunity for you!


How can you get involved?


Join our efforts to help conserve trumpeter swans by reporting where and when you see swans in southwestern Alberta.


Help document trumpeter swans on select waterbodies during spring (Mar. to Apr.) and fall (Sept. to Nov.) migration. Volunteers will be trained in swan identification and data collection methods for swan migration monitoring.


Conserve swans and their habitats by helping maintain the ponds, lakes and wetlands they rely on.
To join our swan project, please contact Elizabeth Anderson at or 403-563-0058.