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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Apr 17, 2010

Swans in flight

I just love it when I spot birds (or wildlife) that I don't usually see or have never taken notice of.  So it was a wonder to me when I went out early only to witness the flight of migrating Swans and another type of large bird flying in formation that I have yet to identify.  The latter were too dark all over in coloring to be a Canada Goose, as well as too distant to identify correctly. All I was able to note was long sweeping wings and long necks, as well as an all black silhouette.   I am hoping to see them again, if not this year perhaps in the next.

We all see large birds flying in formation overhead often during migratory season in the spring and fall, but how do you tell the different species of birds apart when they are so high in the sky that you only see their silhouette?
Swan in flight

In the case of the Swans, the first time I saw them I only recognized that they were different by the way that the sunlight bounced off  them as they flew by overhead. I was lucky to be able to provide you with an example of this in the picture at the beginning of this post.  As you can see if you enlarge the picture.

In fact, at one point as I watched the birds, the sunlight made the wings seem almost transparent. They use their wings more loosely, or fluidly compared to the Canada Goose, and their wing span is larger by about a foot.  Swans also have a noticeably longer necks than the Canada Goose, which is easy to see, even at a distance in their dark silhouette .  Fortunate timing and closer view of the swans reveal that this particular Swan is a Trumpeter Swan, as it's beak is black as well as it's feet.

Canada Geese

Notice the difference in the way the wings are held on the down sweep by the Canada Goose when compared to the Swan in the pictures above and below.


Canada Geese can be distinguished in flight by their distinctive black necks and white cheek patch as well as a lighter belly compared to their darker wings and wing tips, if they are close enough to be viewed through binoculars.  If not they have a white patch on their rump, or the end of their tail, which makes the tail seem very short.  Also Geese tend to be rather noisy which is why I notice them more often than not.  Their voices not only carry a great distance, but are very distinctive.  The Swans also call out as they fly, but their voice doesn't seem to carry as much it seems, as I didn't hear them until they were nearly right above me, but it is definitely different from that of the Goose.

While both the Canada Goose and Swan carries it's neck stretched out straight in flight, I noticed that the Swan holds is neck angled slightly downward and the curve in the neck of the Swan near the shoulders is slightly deeper when I happened to get a closer view.

Canada Geese in flight
Migrating Swans

Descriptions are all very well but I wanted to provide you also with a visual of differences.  Although the pictures above are not very good, you will still be able to note the difference in the flight silhouette of the geese in comparison to the swans.  If you double click on the picture of the Geese, zoom in and look closely, you will notice the lighter coloring of the belly.  I sincerely hope this was helpful to you in distinguishing between these two birds in flight during migration.

Note:  An interesting fact:  young Bald Eagles will also migrate in flocks utilizing classic flight formation.


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