Why do the Swans Have Huge Yellow Numbered Tags on their Wings in Southern Ontario?

Recently I visited the marina at LaSalle Park in Burlington Ontario. As I walked down the hill from the look off I could hear something that sounded like a Grade 8 band brass section warming up: pleasant notes but wavering a little bit off key. Then I saw the flock of over 50 Trumpeter Swans gathered around the main wharf. And almost all of them had two large yellow plastic-looking numbered tags sticking up from their wings. Was I just in time to witness some strange form of swan triathlon? Or why were the birds numbered?

Photo of Trumpeter LaSalle Pk ON on NaturalCrooksDotCom

A closer look at the swans showed that the group was a mixture of adult and juvenile birds. The younger birds still had the darker grey heads, necks and backs. The adults have white heads though they often are stained with rust from feeding underwater. Old or young, though, the yellow tags were everywhere.

Photo of Trumpeter Swan Juveniles LaSalle Park ON on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Why are the Trumpeter Swans at LaSalle Park on Lake Ontario and for How Long?

The Trumpeters are spending the winter at this spot. They like the open sheltered shallow water with lake vegetation to eat. They are also supported by daily grain (corn) deliveries. Because of their size, the swans need a long stretch of open water to take off and land. They also are territorial (more on this in another article!) and even while roosting for the winter need room to spread out from their fellow swans.

According to the Burlington Green website about 200 Trumpeters winter near the LaSalle Marina in Burlington each year.

The Trumpeters usually live at LaSalle from November until late March. They nest further north in Ontario. According to an article in the Toronto Star  their nesting grounds include the Wye Marsh, Kirkland Lake and North Bay. [http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/2009/03/29/trumpeter_swans_making_a_comeback_in_ontario.html]

Why Are Trumpeter Swans so Uncommon Elsewhere in Ontario?

Trumpeter swans were extirpated (locally extinct) due to over-hunting. They have been gradually re-introduced to Ontario over the last 30 years from eggs taken from flocks in western Canada and Alaska.

Photo of Trumpeter Burlington ON March NaturalCrooksDotCom

The newly introduced birds do not properly migrate. According to various sources, Trumpeter swans learn migration routes from their parents. Right now most Ontario Trumpeters stay in Ontario for the winter. Many of the ones that travel further south into the USA do not live to return.

Other places along Lake Ontario to see Trumpeter Swans in winter include Bluffer’s Park, Frenchman’s Bay, and Whitby Harbour, according to an article on the Trumpeter Swan Society site. [http://trumpeterswansociety.wordpress.com/tag/wing-tags/]

Why do the Trumpeter Swans Have Bright Yellow Wing Tags?

The bright yellow numbered wing tags mean the Trumpeters are from Ontario. They are tagged by volunteers, often when on their winter feeding grounds. For example, many are tagged right at LaSalle Park in Burlington.

The tags don’t seem to bother the birds at all. You can see in this photo of a landing swan how the tags are loosely attached near the top of the wings.

Photo of Trumpeter Swan Rearing Burlington Ontario March on NaturalCrooksDotCom

The tags allow scientists to monitor the birds. Records of kept of where the birds are seen, when, and their condition. Nesting success and the number of cygnets is also reported. Some birds have been tracked for more than 5 years returning to the same wintering sites.

By comparing the ratio of tagged birds to untagged birds, it’s also possible for scientists to estimate how successfully the birds are reproducing in the wild. The number of tagged birds has been steadily dropping from which it has been inferred that the total number of birds is climbing. (http://trumpeterswansociety.wordpress.com/tag/wing-tags/)

You can watch a rather amazing video of a Trumpeter Swan being captured on the ice at LaSalle Park and banded on YouTube.

Reporting Tagged Swans

You can help by reporting tagged swans, especially those in less studied spots (e.g. not in LaSalle Park) to various places. Information on the number of swans, time and date, and location (preferably with GPS coordinates) is always helpful. Photos can help too.

You can send an email to Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration at: trumpeterswanREMOVE @REMOVE liveREMOVE.com
if you delete the three removes and the two empty spaces.

Their Facebook is called: Ontario Trumpeter Swans

You can report them to the Wye Marsh at

There are also instructions at
for reporting them at
note there is a continue button on the left side that you click to get to the page/s where you report the sighting.

Related Reading

Join In
Have you seen Trumpeter Swans or only their more common Mute Swan cousins? Were the swans you saw tagged? Please share your experiences with a comment.

51 thoughts on “Why do the Swans Have Huge Yellow Numbered Tags on their Wings in Southern Ontario?

  1. Saw a lone adult Trumpeter Swan with yellow wing tags J76 at Lake Aquitaine in the Meadowvale area of Mississauga yesterday and today. Have pictures. Would like to know how to report the siting. Also have pictures.

  2. My husband and I saw three of these tagged swans on Borden Lake just outside of Chapleau, ON. Their numbers were 160, 165 and 155. We haven’t seen them since. The date was May 17, 2013 around 5 pm.

    • Wye Marsh responded with this information
      Thank you for reporting your sighting of Trumpeter Swans.
      If you have any pictures of the tags to help id the birds that would
      be good. Most of the 100 series birds have lost their tags by now.

      155 is a female, hatched in 2007 to parents 826 & 747 at Bluffers
      Park in Toronto.

      160 is a male, hatched in 2007 to parents 008 & 996 at Wye Marsh in Midland.

      165 is a female, hatched in 2009 to unknown parents at Wye Marsh in
      Midland. As far as we know 165 has not left Wye Marsh, so the
      sighting of her in Chapleau is somewhat surprising.

      If you could provide GPS coordinates for the sighting, it would be helpful.
      A good website to find that information:
      is http://itouchmap.com/latlong.html

      Thanks, Kyna, Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration
      Facebook “Ontario Trumpeter Swans”

  3. This lonely Swan (YellowTag #K21) is located on Stonehenge Golf Course on the small lake at Hole #5.
    Golf Course is on Taunton Road, east of the hamlet of Hampton, ON
    hope this info is helpful…I golf there weekly

  4. We’ve spotted a swan on Lake Simcoe here in Alcona (Apr 27, 2014) with the yellow tag K02 (1 digit off of 3rd picture on this page). We call him/her Kayohtoo. Just wondering with the tag numbers if our visitor is one of a pair?

    • Thanks for sharing your sighting!

      I’ve sent your info to the volunteers at the Wye Marsh who track the swans. Hopefully they can respond with more information on this bird.

      It’s great to see the swans are out and moving after such as harsh winter.

  5. Hi, I always see these marked swans when I go to the water in Burlington and Hamilton. I realize the research and development aspect of this project but it really is an eyesore and I feel like its ruining the natural Beauty of the environment. Will these tags ever be removed? Or are they stuck with it the rest of their lives?

    • I am not a researcher with the project so I couldn’t say. I’m just someone who likes to take walks and look at the plants, birds and animals.

      I doubt it though since the tags are used to check which swans breed with which, which offspring they have, and so on. These are long-term studies. These tagged birds were re-introduced to southern Ontario by humans, they are not truly wild birds, and most cannot survive the winter without help. There are still some wild Trumpeters which you may occasionally see and they are not tagged.

      • The yellow tags on the birds tend to last 3-4 years and birds are typically retagged as the tags fall off or fade.

        The wing tagging will likely continue as long as the population still needs human assistance to become established or if we find another way to track them that is cost effective.

        Other organizations use wing tags as well but neck collars are more commonly used. The colours distinguish where the bird was initially captured.

        Each bird is also fitted with a leg band that is used for tracking purposes. The leg banding is common for all tracked bird species usually lasts the life of the bird and will likely continue to be done forever.

        My hope is that one day the population will be fine on its own and won’t need wing tags for us to help them. But for now the data is absolutely necessary to track the species and learn more about trumpeter swan biology.

        Try to keep in mind without this research, support, and hard work there would be no swans or natural beauty to appreciate at all.

        Sara Handrigan – Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration Group Volunteer.

        • Thanks for the updates for the readers. Personally I like the yellow tags and not only because then I can tell at a glance that the bird is a Trumpeter not a Tundra!

  6. I am becoming particularly fond of a trumpeter swan I spotted offshore at the Brueckner Rhododendron Garden (Lakshore/Shawnmarr) – I’ve named him “Leopold” (R 16). On Sunday, May 31, 2015, spotted him with two friends – K94 and L90

  7. Missing from Port Credit, trumpeter swan K94 and J52, they spent last fall here together as couple and this spring K94 returned alone and now he is gon too. Also L90 was here too for short period of time, he was so friendly, we really miss them all.
    If you have info where they gone let us know, we want know that they are O.K.
    Thank you,
    Nick and Olga.

    • Hi,
      I’m not involved with the swan tracking program, but I’ve forwarded your question on to trumpeterswan@live.com and asked them to reply to you if they have an update.

      I noticed in the article in the Toronto Star on the swans that they say that swans that are 2-3 years old will often start wandering and have been spotted as far away as James Bay. The article recommends reporting sightings to the email I mentioned above and/or to the Wye Marsh at http://www.wyemarsh.com/swan-sightings.

      Most of the Trumpeter Swans that I’ve seen have flown north of Lake Ontario in the summer to warmer, shallower, smaller bodies of water. Hopefully that’s all that has happened to your favourites.

      Thank you very much for sharing your sighting!

  8. june 25/15
    two swans landed in our pond today.
    one was #M45.
    stayed for 3hrs.
    we are located in the hockley valley(orangeville area)

  9. Have seen swan J13 AT Wyldewood golf club
    Trafalgar rd and derry the last few weeks. Hanging out with the canadian geese.

  10. I saw a trumpeter swan this morning (March 22,2016) on Fairy Lake in Newmarket with a yellow tag M43

  11. I recently saw a trumpeter swan in my local town with the tag “E41”. I am located in the Southfields Village area in Caledon, Ontario.

  12. Today, Monday, April 18th about 5:15 p.m. We saw two Trumpeter swans at Bluffers Park. One was tagged L23. I could not see a tag on the other one. They were at the east end of the park in one of the marina bays of water; very close to the edge of the water closest to the road to the beach.

  13. Swans R21 and R79 and 1 untagged swan have been in the storm water ponds at Hwy 407 & 9 th Line in Markham for a few weeks. I believe there are 2 more in another pond also untagged. I will send photos to Wye Marsh address.
    How can be sure the untagged are Trumpeters? If it is in fact wild birds along with tagged-could the wild ones take the tagged on a migration ?

    • Most of the time you can tell a Trumpeter from a Tundra because a Tundra usually has a yellow “tear drop” shape near the bill. Tundras are usually only here for a short time on migration too. I have a bit on info on them at
      and there are good internet sites to compare the swans.

      Yes, the tagged ones could decide to travel with the wild migratory ones. That would be a good thing for the future generations.

      Thanks for sharing your sighting!

  14. Oct 4th I saw 4 swans and on Oct 30th I saw 3 of them. One has what I hope are yellow tags on it’s wings (I am unable to see numbers). I hope the yellow is not a sign of an injury. I’ve sent an email with pictures to trumpeterswan@live.com. Sighting location: Snively Conservation located in Richmond Hill. Ontario

  15. We just seen 3 with one with a visible tag. Couldn’t see number as they were flying over us. In Cache Bay ON around 130 on December 7th. First time seeing them was pretty neat!

  16. P20 and four young adults (greyish necks and heads) were here for three days.
    June 26-28, 2017, Stouffville, Ontario

  17. I live on a farm in Markham, Ontario and have had a single tagged swan on my pond for nearly 5 weeks – M34. This swan has made this pond his/her home and has not left. Should I be concerned? There is also a family of 4 geese – mom, dad and 2 grown babies who have been here for over 2 months. The swan loves to hang out with the geese. Is this normal behaviour for a swan?

    • I certainly am not a swan expert, so I hope if someone who knows more reads this, they will chime in with more insight.

      It doesn’t sound worrying to me, though. Unpaired waterfowl and ones that have had their nest swamped by this year’s heavy rains will often “relax” after the urge to nest passes, and just hang out.

      I’ve often seen Trumpeter Swans near Canada Geese. It’s Mute Swans that I have seen driving away Canada Geese. I haven’t seen them socialize but I have seen them swimming in the same area and resting beside each other on shore. Maybe your Swan is a bit lonely and enjoys the company?

      Thanks for sharing your interesting observations!

  18. Our house is waterfront on the Bay of Quinte. There is a trumpeter swan, Tag: K29, in the area. We also have two families of mute swans with young cygnets. The mute swans have attacked the trumpeter one numerous times. I am not sure if it can fly.

    • I’m sorry to hear you have aggressive Mute Swans in your area. They are becoming a real threat to native birds along the Great Lakes. The Trumpeter may be injured or it may have been in the moult stage and had difficulty flying. Thank you for sharing your sighting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *