Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) are the largest waterfowl species endemic to North America and are difficult to miss with their massive body size, long, thin neck, bright white plumage, and short legs. The straight, black bills differ from that of the Tundra Swan due to the lack of yellow on the lores; instead they have black facial skin that reaches up towards the eyes. In hand, their black bills have a narrow red line at the cutting edge of mandibles (imagine a trumpeter’s chapped lips). Their body shape from the side looks like an elongated oval with a sharp, long tail. Trumpeter Swans may have a stained yellow brow due to foraging in iron-rich soils. Juvenile trumpeters have a pink ring around the nares and are a sooty color, not gaining adult plumage until the second or third year of life. Another distinguishing point is the deeper, far-reaching vocalizations that sounds like a child learning to play a trumpet ko-hoo. In hand, measuring bill length between the tip and interior of nasal opening is a reliable species diagnostic (> 61 mm indicates trumpeter).

Trumpeter Swans, while being a migrating bird, are also known residents in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and Oregon. In recent years, a growing population has been observed in Minnesota. Those that migrate to their breeding grounds are found in Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio. The most abundant populations reside on the Pacific side of Alaska. Trumpeters will incubate eggs unlike that of the usual bird. They will warm their eggs with their giant, webbed feet rather than with their underbelly. This species will migrate to their wintering grounds on the Pacific Coast of British Colombia down to Washington and the Midwestern States in the U.S., with Trumpeter Swans favoring Washington and Victoria Island in British Columbia. Families will migrate together with other Trumpeter Swans as well as with Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, and Northern Pintails.

Trumpeter Swans thrive on a primarily vegetarian diet and because of their long necks they make excellent dabblers. Though most dabblers do not have legs positioned farther back on their bodies, the Trumpeter Swans do but they can easily walk up to a mile at a time. Despite being large birds, they prefer to find freshwater that is less than six feet and will forage on fish eggs, pondweeds, wild rice, and algae. Pond sago weed is a favored food of North American swans.