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2024 marks 30th celebration of swan migration in the Southern Yukon

Birds gather in the open water of McClintock Bay, and Yukoners gather to watch them
Swans gather in the open water at McClintock Bay at the south end of Marsh Lake on April 6. (Jim Elliot/Yukon News)

McClintock Bay and other patches of open water in the Southern Yukon are already alive with the honk of swans on their northward migration. The annual migration begets its yearly celebration in the Yukon, the Celebration of Swans, now in its 30th consecutive year.

The migration is not at its peak yet, and there have already been hundreds of swans counted each day since the start of the month. Recent days have seen the combined daily count for trumpeter and tundra swans climb above 1,400 birds.

Notable among the thousands is the lone Whooper Swan, a Eurasian bird far from home that was first sighted in the Yukon in 2022 and is now back for its third year among its North American cousins. It was spotted this year on April 5, according to the whiteboard outside Swan Haven used to track bird sightings.

Margaret Campbell, a federal government biologist tracking the annual migration, said its pace is difficult to predict as swans will continue to arrive early in the month if it stays warm but that a cold snap or strong winds could slow things down. She noted that the counts for early April are falling far short of records, comparing this year’s April 2 tally of 250 swans to 1,932 birds counted on that day in 2016 and 437 in 2010. It is also well above the record lows: 15 birds counted on April 2, 2009, and 32 in 2014.

Karen McColl, a representative of a wildlife viewing specialist with the territorial government’s fish and wildlife branch, said the peak of the migration has moved earlier into April in recent years. The Celebration of Swans, now a month-long event, used to be held in the third week of April when the migration peaked.

McColl said the peak has moved up about six days from the historical average in recent years; it’s now expected around April 13.

She added that about 10 per cent of the total North American trumpeter swan population will stop over at Swan Haven over the course of the migration.

Next weekend will feature some scheduled events at Swan Haven coinciding with the migration’s peak.

Saturday, April 13, will start off with what McColl describes as a non-denominational multi-belief spiritual gathering. There will also be a performance from the Tagish Nation dancers at 1:30 p.m.

“That’s the first time that they’ll be coming out. And when I contacted the organizers, they were excited to take part because of the significance of swans and spring and so they were excited to be a part of that,” McColl said.

She added that the 13th is also New Yukoner Day at Swan Haven, with two guided walks during which experts can answer people’s questions about swans and the area they use to rest during their migration.

Those out looking for swans on Sunday, April 14, will also have their choice of events. Those willing to drive a bit further than Swan Haven to the Tagish River Bridge can enjoy a fireside celebration of swans with warm drinks around the campfire and Carcross/Tagish First Nation Elders on hand to share stories about the way the swans connect with their culture.

Attendees should bring camp chairs, mugs and warm clothing.

The Japanese-Canadian Association of Yukon will be offering bird origami folding instructions at Swan Haven from 1 to 3 p.m., April 14. Attendees will be able to fold up and take home origami swans, cranes and other creations. Instructors will be able to take people through simple shapes for younger visitors as well as more complex ones for people looking for a challenge.

Wednesday, April 17, is the 30th anniversary of the opening of Swan Haven.

The important date is being marked with a “cake walk,” an interpretive stroll along McClintock Bay followed by a slice of cake back at the Swan Haven Centre.

2024 also brings a new addition to the Celebration of Swans as Martha Ritchie from Haines Junction is Swan Haven’s first artist-in-residence.

The Yukon government’s webpage outlining the events for this month’s celebration states that Ritchie plans to combine the printmaking and textile mediums she commonly works in by making a printing block based on an original drawing and then printing a gown made of repurposed textiles.

Ritchie will be offering an artist talk event on Friday, April 19, at 6:30 p.m.

Family weekend at Swan Haven, which McColl noted is often where the human migration out to Marsh Lake to see the swans peaks, is held on April 20 and 21 with a variety of events for families.

All of the events being held at Swan Haven in April are free to attend.

Past visitors to Swan Haven will find the area much the same, with its trail worn into the ice on the lakeshore and interpretive signage. McColl noted that the trails and parking area can be a bit slick depending on the time of day, so footwear with good traction is recommended.

Contact Jim Elliot at

Blustery winds kick snow up into a small tornado as Celebration of Swans attendees walk the trail alongside McClintock Bay last Saturday. (Jim Elliot/Yukon News)
Birds fly over Swan Haven at McClintock Bay on Marsh Lake on April 6, 2024. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)
Swans come in for a landing on McClintock Bay on Marsh Lake on April 6, 2024 (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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