Finding Serenity with the Black-Necked Swans

Tucked away in a quiet corner along the South American pathway of Reid Park Zoo are two of the most serene birds in Tucson: the lovely, black-necked swans, Delilah and Barbara. These two female companions share a tranquil grotto-type space just past the Andean Bear habitat near the entrance to the Pacu Fish and Diorama Cave where you can take a peek at some South American animal habitats in miniature, another delightful surprise in this area.

10-year-old Delilah and 3-year-old Barbara are graceful swimmers and spend most of their time in the water. Native to the wetlands of southern Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, Black-Necked Swans are the largest waterfowl in South America. Their bodies are completely white except for a striking black neck and head with a bright red knob where the beak meets the head. Like most swans, they mate for life. Throughout the day at Reid Park Zoo they can be seen either in or out of the water, nibbling on a diet of “spring mix” (baby mixed green lettuces) and nutritional waterfowl chow. For enrichment, they feast on crickets, wax worms, meal worms, whole-leaf lettuce heads, and grapes. Although our female swans are companions and not a breeding pair, they may often display nesting behaviors, such as gathering material for building nests and sitting on eggs, but any eggs produced are unfertilized and will not hatch.   

Finding serenity with the locals

This spot is one of the most enchanting and tranquil areas of the zoo. If you sit on the bench opposite the swan’s grotto, you may see and hear some of Tucson’s native birds, Mexican or great-tailed grackles, sparrows, and black-crowned night herons, nesting in the bamboo trees overhead. Just in front of the swan’s pool is a small grouping of banana plants; if you’re lucky, you might spot a reddish-purple, pod-shaped flower dangling from a stem just below a whorl of tiny bananas. Higher up in the tree canopy, branches of the South American pink floss-silk trees shade the entire area. The thorny trunks are spectacular year round, but these trees are best appreciated during the fall (September and October) when the canopy explodes in a spectacular display of pink and white funnel-shaped flowers that look like a cross between a stargazer lily and a pink cymbidium orchid. Our local bat, bird, and insect pollinators love them. 

Adding to this green reverie are the sounds of small waterfalls splashing nearby that keep the area and its inhabitants cool, one to the left of the swan’s grotto, one in the nearby Andean bear habitat, and one in the corner of the giant anteater habitat. The pools in this area are also home to many wild mallards and pintails who share the zoo animals’ water, shade, and food. Quite recently, my family observed the swans Delilah and Barbara swimming quite contentedly with a pair of mallard hybrids who were carefully shepherding four fuzzy juveniles. Their little impromptu swimming ballet was mesmerizing.  

The gifts of nature

This is a great spot in the zoo to relax, breathe deeply, and just soak in the tranquility of nature. Listening to the medley of birdsong in the morning is ideal—more benches await you in the South American Aviary nearby—but a visit any time of the day would be a boost to your mental and physical well-being. I’ve even stopped by for a few minutes on the way to my workplace. 

We’re so fortunate that another area of tranquil space will be coming soon with theReaid Park Zoo expansion’s Pathway to Asia, where you’ll be able to immerse yourself in even more birdsong inside the Wings of Wonder Aviary. Inside WOW you’ll be able to sit, observe, and even offer food to the beautiful birds of Asia.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll find time to take a stroll along the South America pathway to visit the Black-Necked Swans in their grotto, walk among the trees, listen to the sounds of the water, and watch the wildlife swimming in the pools and streams. It’s a wonderful way to de-stress, and Delilah and Barbara are always willing to share the shade!