IT’S USUALLY ALL about the ducks when it comes to waterfowl in Arkansas—the mallards, widgeons, pintails and the like who funnel through the Delta on their migration down the Mississippi Flyway. But Magness Lake, an oxbow of the Little Red River near Heber Springs, has been attracting a more graceful web-footed itinerant since three trumpeter swans arrived unexpectedly in 1991. It’s believed that those three, the first documented trumpeter swans in Arkansas since the early 1900s, arrived in the Ozarks after a winter storm blew them off course. But whatever the reason, they kept coming back. And they brought friends. In recent winters, more than 200 trumpeter swans have settled annually onto the quiet waters of the privately owned, 30-acre lake. The flock is believed to be the largest consistent flock of trumpeter swans in the South.
The lake is owned by the Eason family, which welcomes visitors to enjoy the swans from November through early March. The handsome birds, feathered in snowy plumage accented with black masks and bills, are best viewed in the afternoons as many of the flock return from feeding on neighboring land to settle in for the night. And just so you can be informed when you catch a glimpse—and you should—here’s what you need to know about the creatures.
They’re big guys: Though graceful as any other swan species, trumpeter swans are the moose of waterfowl. Their wingspans near 7 feet, and males average more than 26 pounds, with 30-pounders not being out of the question. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, trumpeter swans are the heaviest birds in North America. Getting that bulk airborne requires 100 yards of runway that must be covered at full gallop.
They mate for life…usually: Trumpeter swans have mating habits very similar to a certain species of bipedal primate. They form pair bonds somewhere around 3 to 4 years old. The pair stays together throughout the year—mating, nesting, brooding, migrating south, migrating north and then starting all over again. Not every couple makes it till death do they part, though. Some split and choose new mates, and biologists say some widowers never mate again, finishing out their days as bachelors. (Male swans are called cobs, by the way. Females are pens, and the youngins are cygnets.)
They’re like your aunt who winters in Boca Raton: Trumpeter swans are only moderate travelers, and some even take up year-long residences in places that catch their fancy. The Magness Lake bunch are migrators, though. They arrive in autumn, leave in late winter, and they’re mostly Midwesterners from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.