Photo: Diane McAllister/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Tundra Swan

Cygnus columbianus

Nesting on Arctic tundra and migrating long distances to favored wintering areas, this native swan was less affected by human settlement than was the Trumpeter Swan. Destruction of southern wetlands has reduced its former food sources in wintering areas, but it has adapted by shifting its habits to feeding on waste products in agricultural fields. The North American population is often called Whistling Swan.
Conservation status Population is stable, and large enough to sustain a limited hunting season in some areas.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Tundra (summer), lakes, large rivers, bays, estuaries, flooded fields. In summer on northern tundra with many lakes and ponds, generally near the coast. During migration and winter mainly on shallow lakes, wide slow-moving rivers, and coastal estuaries, especially those with agricultural fields nearby.
Nesting on Arctic tundra and migrating long distances to favored wintering areas, this native swan was less affected by human settlement than was the Trumpeter Swan. Destruction of southern wetlands has reduced its former food sources in wintering areas, but it has adapted by shifting its habits to feeding on waste products in agricultural fields. The North American population is often called Whistling Swan.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • immature (1st year)
  • adult
  • adults
  • adult with cygnets
Feeding Behavior

in nesting season forages mainly in water by dabbling at surface, dipping head underwater, or upending with tail up and head straight down (can reach 3 feet below surface). On migration and in winter does much feeding on land in open fields. Sometimes feeds during moonlit nights.


Eggs

4-5, up to 7. Creamy white, becoming stained. Female does about 3/4 of incubating, male does rest; eggs hatch in 31-32 days. Young: Both parents tend young, leading them to feeding sites in water. Adults may paddle with feet to bring submerged food to surface for young; may rarely feed young directly. Young fledge in 2-3 months, remain with parents at least through first winter.


Young

Both parents tend young, leading them to feeding sites in water. Adults may paddle with feet to bring submerged food to surface for young; may rarely feed young directly. Young fledge in 2-3 months, remain with parents at least through first winter.

Diet

seeds and other plant material. Summer diet mainly stems, seeds, and roots of aquatic plants, including sedges, pondweeds, arrowleaf, algae, and others; also a few small invertebrates. At other seasons, eats much grain in harvested fields of corn, barley, and soybean.


Nesting

In one display involving members of a pair, the birds face each other, wings partly spread and rapidly quivering, while they call loudly. Nest site is near lake or other open water, on ridge or island with good visibility. Nest (built by both sexes) is low mound of plant material, 1 or 2 feet in diameter, with a depression in the center; may be used for more than 1 year.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Birds may leave nesting areas in late summer and concentrate in nearby estuaries. Southward migration begins mid-autumn. Migrating flocks (of up to 100 or more) are made up of family groups. May fly long distances between traditional staging areas in fall; spring migration may involve shorter flights and more stopovers.

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Migration

Birds may leave nesting areas in late summer and concentrate in nearby estuaries. Southward migration begins mid-autumn. Migrating flocks (of up to 100 or more) are made up of family groups. May fly long distances between traditional staging areas in fall; spring migration may involve shorter flights and more stopovers.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Mellow bugling call, hoo-ho-hoo, usually heard from a flock of migrating birds.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Duck-like Birds Swans

Tundra Swan

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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