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December 1, 2022
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A runway for hundreds of swans and ducks at Texas slough near Rexburg

The Texas Slough that runs through Burton, west of Rexburg, has become a waterfowl runway as hundreds of swans and ducks are dropping in for a meal or a rest. While I was watching the show, I heard both the trumpeting calls of the Trumpeter swans, mixed with some soft responses from their cousins, the Tundra swans.

With the recent bitter cold, swans have been forced to migrate south from northern Canada, where they nest, to their wintering grounds in eastern Idaho. Texas Slough is not the only local area crowded. The Henrys Fork of the Snake River from Rexburg to Last Chance in Island Park are open water for thousands of these huge birds. Potato fields in the Plano, Burton and Rexburg Bench are favorite feeding areas for them. Frozen potatoes are one of their favorite foods.

Normally, Tundra swans do not migrate in the fall throughout the Upper Snake River Valley, but this year has been different. Along with three on the Texas Slough, a flock of about 25 joined about 200 Trumpeters in a field near Parker. Somewhere in the migration south, the swans got into a mixer. As I watched the two species at Texas Slough, the young Trumpeters did not like Tundras horning in on their family group.

The swans will continue migrating to the area as the waters north of us continue to freeze up. By January, hundreds will use Deer Parks Wildlife Management area, west of the Menan Buttes, as their home base. They will feed on the corn and wheat that was not harvested by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to allow the birds to use during the winter and the spring. Personnel at the WMA will create hiking and cross-country skiing paths for people to use to view the wildlife there.

Powerlines pose a great danger for these once-rare birds. Prior to 2015, 10 to 20 swans would die along the Texas Slough in collisions with powerlines. But in the late fall of 2015, Fall River Electric Cooperative buried part of the powerline. It has allowed these beautiful birds to leave and enter their feeding/resting place in greater safety. That is one of my favorite areas to watch these huge birds make not-so-graceful landings on the crowded runway.

A quick comment on the difference between Tundra and Trumpeter swans: My first identifying item is their voice. The Tundra has a soft call while the Trumpeter “trumpets.” The other identifying item is their bills. The Tundra has a yellow patch between their bill and their eye and the bill is slightly cupped on top while the Trumpeter’s bill is all black and is very straight.

If you are watching swans and see one with a neckband, please record the color and the number of the band. Go online and report it here. They use these sightings to record the movements of these birds.

I find it very rewarding and entertaining to watch and study the actions of these birds with each other and also with other waterfowl like ducks and geese. Just one more way to enjoy the great outdoors.

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