Tundra swans at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Tundra swans at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The tundra swans have returned to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. It’s not just the swans, of course, but migratory waterfowl in the thousands.

But it is the tundra swans, the white of their feathers standing in sharp contrast to the steel gray of the waters and endless sky that are the star attraction.

There is something wonderful about how predictable it all is. Starting in October they begin to arrive. By Thanksgiving week they are at their peak every year.

It is a long migration, beginning in early to mid autumn in the farthest northern reaches of Canada. It is where their name comes from, because their summer breeding area is indeed tundra.

According to the Audubon Society, North Carolina hosts the largest population of tundra swans in the United States. They estimate some 65,000-75,000 settle in for a four or five month stay before heading north.

Best Place to View Tundra Swans

Although many of them are found at Pea Island, Lake Mattamuskeet hosts a very large population as does Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

Pea Island, Lake Mattamuskeet and Alligator River all all part of the a National Wildlife Refuge system.

They are also sometimes called whistling swans, the name coined by Lewis and Clark during their journey of discovery in the early 19th century. The name refers to their whistling call.

Tundra swans are not the only migratory waterfowl to call Pea Island and the Outer Banks home in the fall and winter. Migratory ducks in particular—American Black Ducks, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teals, and  American Wigeon flock to local waters in vast numbers. Much to the delight of hunters.

The fall and winter holds its own unique charm on the Outer Banks. Spend a week or two with us at Brindley Beach Vacations and discover why we have fallen in love with every season.