Conservation status Trumpeter Swans once nested over most of North America, but disappeared rapidly as civilization advanced westward; by the 1930s, fewer than 100 remained south of Canada. With protection from hunting and disturbance, populations have rebounded in parts of the northwest. More recent efforts have focused on reintroducing the species to areas thought to be part of the former breeding range, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario.
Family Ducks and Geese
Habitat Lakes, ponds, large rivers; in winter, also bays. Favors large but shallow freshwater ponds, or wide, slow-flowing rivers, with lots of vegetation. Most of current range is in forested regions, but at one time was also common on northern prairies.
Largest of the native waterfowl in North America, and one of our heaviest flying birds, the Trumpeter Swan was almost driven to extinction early in the 20th century. Its healthy comeback is considered a success story for conservationists. Ordinarily the Trumpeter is quite sensitive to human disturbance; in protected areas, such as some parks and refuges, it may become accustomed to humans and allow close approach.

Feeding Behavior

Takes food from underwater, or on or above water's surface; sometimes on land, especially in winter. To forage in deeper water, swans upend with tail up and neck extending straight down, finding food by touch with bill.


4-6, up to 9. Whitish, becoming nest-stained. Female does most of incubating but male often does some; eggs hatch in 32-37 days. Young: can swim when less than 1 day old. Both adults tend young, leading them to feeding sites. Young are not fully capable of flight until 3-4 months after hatching.


can swim when less than 1 day old. Both adults tend young, leading them to feeding sites. Young are not fully capable of flight until 3-4 months after hatching.


Mostly plant material. Adults eat mainly stems, leaves, and roots of aquatic plants, including pondweed, sedges, rushes, arrowleaf, wild celery, bulrush, burreed, and many others. May eat terrestrial grasses and waste crops in winter. Young eat many insects and other small invertebrates, mainly during first 2 weeks after hatching.


Usually forms pairs at age 2-4 years, but nests for first time at age 4-7 years. Often mates for life. Nest site is surrounded by water, as on small island, beaver or muskrat house, floating platform. Nest (built by both sexes, although female may do most of work) is a low mound of plant material, several feet in diameter, with a depressed bowl in the center. Same nest may be used in subsequent years.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Most southern populations are non-migratory. Northern Trumpeters move south in late fall as waters begin to freeze. Most migration is by day, flocks often in V-formation, flying low. Spring migration begins early, birds often reaching nesting territory before waters are free of ice.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

A bugling ko-hoh, lower-pitched than Tundra Swan's call.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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