Preening Trumpeter Swans

I believe the Trumpeter Swan to be the most elegant bird species I’ve ever photographed.


trumpeter swan 4295 ron dudley

 1/2000, f/9, ISO 400, Canon 7D, Canon 100-400 @400mm, not baited, set up or called in

This past September I spent about 20 minutes up close with a (apparently) mated pair of these huge, shy birds as they preened on southwest Montana’s Elk Lake. This was the first time I’ve ever been anywhere near this close to Trumpeter Swans and they were very accepting of me. They were several feet from each other and they both had their backs to me as they preened. With the dark blue background and the bright white birds the scene was an exposure nightmare and I’ve dealt with that as best I can during processing.

This is the larger (up to 30 lbs) male working over some of those beautiful feathers.



trumpeter swan 5889 ron dudley

 1/2000, f/10, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Unlike many other species that long neck makes it relatively easy for them to reach almost any part of their body during maintenance.



trumpeter swan 5911 ron dudley

 1/2000, f/10, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

 The smaller female joined in the preening party too.



trumpeter swan 5926 ron dudley

 1/1600, f/10, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

 That long, flexible neck formed an almost infinite number of shapes as each bird worked over its feathers.



trumpeter swan 5927 ron dudley

 1/1250, f/10, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

 Getting access to some of the feathers often required each bird to maneuver a wing into an interesting position.



trumpeter swan 5973 ron dudley

 1/2000, f/10, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Feathers were pulled loose several times…



trumpeter swan 5996 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/9, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

and here you can see this one floating away on the dark blue water.

Several things struck me about the uniqueness of these birds as I watched them through my lens but one of them stands out – compared to other birds they move very slowly and I believe that contributes to our perception of their elegance. Generally, the smaller the bird the more “twitchy” their movements and these huge swans move slowly and gracefully rather than in quick, jerky movements like smaller species. Even their rousing and wing flapping are performed in what seems like slow motion.

I’m sure that my time with these wild and beautiful swans will remain etched in my memory for as long as I live.




26 comments to Preening Trumpeter Swans

  • I love these swans. You have a great eye. I have really been enjoying perusing your blog not just the beautiful photos but also your commentary.

  • Charlotte Nortom

    Such magnificent shots Ron! Thanks for sharing!

  • Jean

    Fantastic shots Ron. I agree, Swans are so elegant.

  • Gary Dunning

    Glorious creatures. Kudos upon capturing their preening contortions, in these fascinating images. Concerning exposure challenge w/ extreme contrast I’m curious about actual color of the water. It appears too intensely blue for reality or is it an accurate rendition for time of time of day?

    • Gary, I believe the water color to be accurate though slightly darker than it really was due to me trying to get exposure on the bright white birds right. Directly behind the birds was a steep pine covered hillside in shade that likely contributed to the color of the water.

      Beyond a moderate exposure adjustment to the entire image all processing was done selectively to the birds only. I didn’t adjust the water color or do anything else to it either.

      Fair question. I’m glad you asked it.

  • Humming Bird Lover

    Hi! Beautiful, wonderful and so well taken photos! I love these photo’s so much! Thank you for sharing! Have a great day on Thur.Shooting1

  • These photos are gorgeous! You’ve captured their elegance. Thanks for sharing.

  • Cori

    Ron it’s nice to hear how much you appreciate the beauty and elegance of this species. We have many year round Trumpeters where I live and several dozens more join them in winter for the season. We get an uncountable number. I can never resist taking their photos. With winter surrounding them some of the photos are really nice. The best time of the year is when the cygnets arrive, usually 6 or 7. They are adorable. We had a resident bonded pair that produced offspring for about 5 years and in the summer of 2013 the female was fatally injured when she flew into the ropes of a sailboat at the yacht club. The male bonded with a new female and they had cygnets the following spring. I just this minute returned home from watching them. These images you captured are breath taking.

  • Those images which get stored in our heart’s memory card are beyond precious aren’t they? Something to take out and smile at on dark days and darker nights.

  • Susan Stone

    The contrast between the birds and the water look perfect to me. Gorgeous photos of a gorgeous bird. These remind me of the time we spent photographing Mute Swans in Keukenhof Garden in Amsterdam. Absolutely gorgeous birds, shameless beggars (they were definitely not wild) and terrible photos with my point and shoot camera… but wonderful memories.

  • Karen Recher

    Simply beautiful. Thanks.

  • One of my fondest memories is feeding swans in RI with my nana. Thanks for this flashback.

  • beautiful exposure and light and dark … i love the way they fold up their wings, you’ve captured it beautifully!!

  • Leisa

    So incredibly beautiful they almost seem magical! No wonder they are so often in fairy tales!

  • Suze

    Trumpeters stop overnight at our place on their migration. It was wonderful to see them!

    What I won’t forget is the sound they make– like real trumpets!

    Thanks for the up close look. Those feathers are gorgeous!

  • Marya Moosman

    These are completely wonderful, Ron! I never get tired of watching swans and these images are perfect. Thanks for giving me a beautiful start to my birthday!

  • Bill Beecham

    Beautiful birds. Gosh, some days I wish I could do that! Thanks for sharing, Ron.