|Tundra Swans Arriving at Nightfall
|Waiting for the Swans to Arrive
|A Ruckus of Feeding Swans
|Taking Notes in the Company of Tom and Tundra Swans
|Tom Horton in Thoughtful Mode
But Tom cautions against being too satisfied with this state of affairs. In an era of mass species extinction, when the populations of a wide range of living kinds are plummeting across the face of the earth, the survival of the Tundra Swan is not at all assured. Tom notes that the fate of this swan is tied up even more with the fate of the arctic tundra than it is with its feeding grounds in the Chesapeake. As the former undergoes climate change, the permafrost is melting and with this the marshy pools of water stretching across the reaches of the arctic north, crucial to the swans' thriving, will diminish, if not out and out disappear. By 2080 the Audubon Society estimates 61% of the northern range of the Tundra Swan, which is the place where they mate, bear their young and regain body mass lost during the hard travel and less fruitful feeding of the winter months, is going to be gone. The tundra will have ceased to be tundra, at least as we have heretofore understood this term to mean something.
Perhaps the most crucial bit of information Tom offers about the swans is that there are, in the entire world, only 140,000 of them. That number is not at all a lot of one kind of a living kind. Just in the United States there are around 180 towns and cities with more human beings, big boisterous primates, than there are Tundra Swans, feathered and aloft, on the entire planet. Joliet, Illinois or Mesquite Texas alone has as many people as there are Tundra Swans altogether. Even if we see these great and graceful birds in noisy congregations of hundreds and even thousands, it's important to keep in mind that each mating pair needs a minimum of two square miles of fruitful tundra if they are going to successfully produce offspring and then raise them. The adults put in a lot of work doing so, and if their efforts over the long haul prove unsuccessful, their kind disappears. We humans need to keep in mind that the fauna of a more-than-human living world are not merely mindless automatons effortlessly reproducing themselves down through the ages. Mom and dad, at least in the case of swans and cranes, of robins and nuthatches, of eagles and osprey, as well as many other similar living kinds, have to show up and put in significant time. And this effort on the part of individual birds and other fauna to sustain their own living kind calls for our respect.
Thom Van Dooren, in his brilliant study of endangered birds titled Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction, reminds his reader that the disappearance of a living kind from the face of the earth does not occur in a single moment with the cutting of a single thread, but rather is the outcome of a massive unraveling over generations of a particular species' entanglement with its habitat and a host of other living kinds In the last century or so, a lot of unraveling has been occurring in the Chesapeake region, but the swans have been busy re-entangling themselves in the land and waterscapes of their winter home. If bay grasses disappear, the swans possess the genius to reengineer their residency, to seek out kernels of corn and fallen soy beans amidst the stubble. And they are not so shy that they can't spend the long winter nights on open waters in the vicinity of highways busy with traffic. The question Tom and his students, as well as the writer of this blog, are left with, is whether the swans possess enough genius to resist our massive altering of both their summer and winter habitats, or whether we humans might even find a way to temper our activities and make more room on the planet for a lot more of more-than-human living kinds. A world without tundra swans would be a poorer world indeed.