Hundreds of Trumpeter Swans Enjoy Their Winter Home Near Heber Springs, Arkansas

Updated on November 12, 2017
Casey White profile image

We both were born and raised in Arkansas and were surprised to learn that Trumpeter Swans were making their winter home in our home state.

Trumpeter Swans - they mate for life.
Trumpeter Swans - they mate for life. | Source
Close-up of the face of a cygnet (young) trumpeter swan (the bill has some pink on it, but with a black base).
Close-up of the face of a cygnet (young) trumpeter swan (the bill has some pink on it, but with a black base). | Source

In the winter of 1991, three trumpeter swans arrived at Lake Magness near Heber Springs, Arkansas—considerably off their normal path in the Midwest. No one really knows why they showed up there, but they did and have been coming back every year since to spend the winter months. It's not just the original three, who have been referred to as the "pilgrim swans," that return each year; the number has grown significantly since that time and the count is now at about 300, according to Larry Jernigan, a long-time friend of ours who lives in Heber Springs and took all of the photos for this article. The swans also take advantage of some of the ponds that are nearby, but most of the sightings are at Lake Magness. They have created a unique birding experience for local residents and the millions of visitors to the area who come to fish in the Little Red River, which is regularly stocked with trout; or go boating on Greer's Ferry Lake. Hikers are also drawn to the area by the spectacular Sugar Loaf Mountain on the east side of Heber Springs. Whatever your interest, there's a lot to see and do in this part of Arkansas (Cleburne County), which is home to just over 25,000 people.

Trumpeter Swan Facts

  • They are the largest Northern America native waterfowl.
  • They are one of the heaviest flying birds.
  • Trumpeter swans are no longer more common in fresh water than salt water, as they once were; the most important factors to them now are access to food, open waters and protection.
  • They are threatened by continued habitat loss and lead poisoning from pellets (apparently they ingest lead pellets to help with digestion of hard grains, and ingesting as few as three pellets can kill a trumpeter swan).
  • By the 1930's there were fewer than 100 trumpeter swans south of Canada; they number over 15,000 currently in North America, and they are thriving.
  • Scientific name of trumpeter swan (cygnus buccinator); anseriformes (order); anatidae (family).
  • They lay their eggs near or on the water.
  • They are considered riparians.
  • They have bilateral symmetry (mirror image halves).

It Is Illegal to Harm, Injure, or Kill Swans in Arkansas

Trumpeter swan upon landing.
Trumpeter swan upon landing. | Source
Trumpeter swans - hanging out with friends.  When these swans are adults, their feet, bill, and tarsals are black, but their feathers are completely white.
Trumpeter swans - hanging out with friends. When these swans are adults, their feet, bill, and tarsals are black, but their feathers are completely white. | Source
This is the reason we refer to swans as "graceful."  Adult trumpeter swans have pink to red mouths which almost gives the impression that they are smiling, as you can see in this photograph.
This is the reason we refer to swans as "graceful." Adult trumpeter swans have pink to red mouths which almost gives the impression that they are smiling, as you can see in this photograph. | Source
Trumpeter swans - nearing the end of the day.  A very small percentage of trumpeter swans can have a greyish tint to their feathers instead of pure white.
Trumpeter swans - nearing the end of the day. A very small percentage of trumpeter swans can have a greyish tint to their feathers instead of pure white. | Source

How to Find the Swans

The trumpeter swans don't have a set schedule, but they usually arrive in Arkansas sometime in late November and stay until late February or early March. If you are planning on a trip to view them, you should first check with the Heber Springs Chamber of Commerce and they should be able to tell you if they've arrived, or are still hanging around. (1-501-362-2444 8:30-4:30 Monday through Friday).

Directions to Lake Magness:

Go east on Arkansas Highway 110 from the intersection with Arkansas Highways 5 and 25, just east of Heber Springs. When you've gone 3.9 miles, you will see Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, which will be marked with a white sign. Begin looking for a very small sign at a paved road (Hays Road) and turn left onto it. Magness Lake is about a half a mile down Hays Road.

According to the local chamber, you can view the swans from a public road, and parking spaces are available in an S curve of the road. Shelled corn is the only feed recommended for them, but it can be bought at some of the downtown Heber Springs shops. Even though there will be a fence between you and Arkansas' version of "swan lake", the view is spectacular and, as you can see, great photos are possible if you have the skills.

Trumpeter swans enjoying their winter home near Heber Springs, Arkansas.
Trumpeter swans enjoying their winter home near Heber Springs, Arkansas. | Source
Trumpeter swans - the landing.
Trumpeter swans - the landing. | Source
Trumpeter swans - resting on a bed of water.
Trumpeter swans - resting on a bed of water. | Source

They Don't Migrate or Fly South?

A report on the migratory birds of the great lakes funded by a University of Wisconsin sea grant states that trumpet swans "remain year-round in much of their breeding range, wherever they can find food in ice-free streams and ponds. Those swans that do migrate generally go no further south than is necessary to find open water. Swans from the Great Lakes region either do not migrate or fly south into the mid-Mississippi valley."

Apparently, there are some exceptions, and they can be found during the winter months near Heber Springs, Arkansas.

The Best Time of the Day for Viewing Trumpeter Swans

During the mid-afternoon some of the swans are probably going to be in flight, although there are always swans on the lake. Earlier in the day, they are likely to be off finding food, returning around 3-4 in the afternoon, so the best time to see them is during the hours from the middle of the afternoon until dusk.

(Swans of all ages will be found on Lake Magness, but the ones with brownish or grey feathers are the younger birds; as they age, they become more white).

Trumpeter swan coming in for a landing.
Trumpeter swan coming in for a landing. | Source
What amazing and graceful creatures Trumpeter swans are.
What amazing and graceful creatures Trumpeter swans are. | Source

At the End of the Day

A family of trumpeter swans in the fog on Lake Magness in Arkansas.
A family of trumpeter swans in the fog on Lake Magness in Arkansas. | Source

© 2017 Mike and Dorothy McKenney

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    • Casey White profile image
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      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 5 months ago from United States

      Thanks for your thoughts. It is a shame that people have to be constantly reminded to clean up after themselves. We live near Albuquerque and like to visit the Sandia Mountains for exploring, but I'm always saddened when we have to pick up other people's bottles and cans in order to get a decent photograph of a cactus. Thank you for taking the time to write, and I agree completely. I don't know about making the pea gravel available - I'll have to find out, but the lake is actually on private property. Will there ever be a day that people will stop littering and leaving pellets and broken glass behind for others to deal with? Let's just hope so.

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      S Maree 5 months ago from North/Central Indiana

      I'm worried about the lead pellets, likely sinkers, BB's or loose shot. Can pea gravel be made available near feeding areas? It is great in the gizzards for grinding food. If it is abundant, perhaps the agonizing lead poisonings will decrease.

      Also, hunters & fishers! Retrieve your lead, hooks, snarled line, shall casings (also makes birds ill or kills), etc. What you bring in, take out!

      Those of you just out for fun, take your trash with you & place in regular recycle or garbage receptors. Your kids & grandkids will thank you for leaving them a cleaner world to enjoy!

      Come up to Starke & LaPorte Counties in Indiana in the spring & fall to experience Sandhill Cranes! Unbelievable! Go to VisitIndiana.com & key in "birdwatching" to find links to tracking the cranes' migrations!

      Blessings to you , Mike & Dorothy, & the lovely swans!

    • Casey White profile image
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      Mike and Dorothy McKenney 5 months ago from United States

      Never too much!!! Thank you so much! Am I saying "much" too much?

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      Tamara Moore 5 months ago

      Am I using the word "Beautiful " too much? How can I help it? This is Beautiful!

      Tamara