Nature – The Whistling Swan

After the cold months of winter pass and the northern lakes begin to thaw as the snow melts and the ice breaks apart, flocks of birds gather in preparation for their flight to their northern breeding grounds. Tundra Swans have high-pitched honking calls and sound similar to a black goose (Branta). They are particularly vocal when foraging in flocks on their wintering grounds; any arriving or leaving of other birds will elicit a bout of loud excited calling from its fellows while busily preening their feathers. They eat heavily to store layers of fat in preparation for their long migration flight to the northern Polar Regions.

This flight would be more hurried than its fall migration, for the whistling swan, the American race of the Tundra Swan,  will want to begin building its nest as early as possible. Its nesting season is short, and if the swans are to have a successful brood, they must lay, hatch and rear their young before the water freezes and winter snow once again begins to fall.

Swans do not usually associate with other birds but fly only with their own species. Their migratory flocks may be as large as five hundred in number. At the proper time the flock slowly lifts into the air with strong, steady beats of their outstretched wings. The large body of the whistling swan lifts steadily into the air as it gradually picks up speed.

This swan is aided in flight by two advantages. First, it can fly so high that it literally becomes invisible from the ground, attaining altitudes of six thousand feet. With this advantage the swan can fly above mountains and turbulent storms. A second and greater advantage is the swan’s ability to fly as a flock in V-formation. Its speed would be drastically reduced were it not for the flock’s ability to fly in this manner. The whistling swan is capable of attaining speeds of up to one hundred miles per hour.

It has been calculated that twenty-five birds flying in V-formation are able to travel seventy percent farther than one swan flying by itself. This tremendous increase in distance is possible because the lead swan “breaks the trail” for the others that follow. Consequently, air resistance is lessened as each swan benefits from the up wash of the widening wake of the one preceding it. Less total lift power is required.

The lead swan has the most difficult task. When it becomes tired, it drops back and a new leader takes over, giving it an opportunity to rest. For some swans the great northerly return flight may be as long as three thousand miles. Because of the initiative of one swan in taking the lead, the swans are able to relieve the pressure from others in the flock and greatly increase the speed at which they travel. Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, Inc., Rand McNally and Company, 1976.

“Workers for God will meet with turmoil, discomfort, and weariness. At times, uncertain and distracted, the heart is almost in despair. When this restless nervousness comes, the worker should stop and rest. Christ invites him, ‘Come … apart, … and rest a while’ (Mark 6:31). ‘He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength. … They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint’ (Isaiah 40:29–31).” Lift Him Up, 263.