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
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.
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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.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Tundra Swan

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Tundra Swan

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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