Unusually Low Swan Statistics This Year

March 27, 2024

The Aylmer Wildlife Management Area saw a peak of 386 tundra swans on March 10th, as reported by the Elgin Stewardship Council—this unexpected low surprised many swan enthusiasts, with a peak of 4,300 swans visiting in 2023. Totalling the daily number of swans in 2023, we saw over 37,000 swans; in contrast, the daily swan numbers in 2024 total 2,351 as of March 27. The trend of unusually few swans was common throughout southern Ontario, with the Lambton Heritage Museum reporting a maximum of only 1,000 visiting swans at once.

Our contacts at the Elgin Stewardship Council speculate that the unusually warm winter is to blame for the lack of swans. Elgin Stewardship Council Director and Aylmer Wildlife Management Area Manager Ron Casier, in consultation with biologists following the migration, provided some context to museum staff.

We received many reports that tundra swans were sighted in the Aylmer and Malahide areas much earlier than expected. With the mild weather, the tundra swans seem to have begun their journey westward in January of this year. Many swans likely made the journey on the night of the full moon on February 24ᵗʰ. Birds tend to favour clear, moon-lit nights for their migrations.

The tundra swans that stop by the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area usually winter in Chesapeake Bay in the United States, positioned between Virginia and Maryland. With the warm weather, fewer swans may have wintered so far south as Chesapeake. From a position northward, Aylmer wouldn’t necessarily be along the swans’ flight path to return to their breeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska.

Swans that did take the usual route may not have been compelled to stay in the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area. Having experienced an easy winter, birds weren’t necessarily relying on the Wildlife Area as a food source along the way.

Altogether, we’ve witnessed a strange migration this year! Many of us were holding out hope that larger numbers would come later in the month, but it seems that we’re currently seeing the tail end of the migration.

Wildlife Area Manager Ron Casier likened the low swan count to the 2019 migration, when planned maintenance to the Wildlife Area necessitated draining some of its water, and prevented many swans from landing. The migration progressed as planned in 2020, and we hope that tundra swan numbers will likewise recover in 2025.

In collaboration with the Elgin Stewardship Council and Eastlink, we plan to continue updating the Swan Line ((519) 773-7926) with daily statistics until the end of this week (Friday, March 29, 2024). The Aylmer Wildlife Management Area remains open for visitors, though interpretation services will be unavailable for the remainder of the migration.

We would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Elgin Stewardship Council for their efforts in taking care of the tundra swans and the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area, as well as for counting the swans each day. We would also like to thank Ron Casier for his valuable assistance in helping our staff understand this year’s migration.



View the Swan Line here.



Featured image courtesy of David Helsdon