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Wetland Waterfowl and Wildlife Identification

Trumpeter swan

Did you know

Trumpeter swans are the largest species of native waterfowl in North America.
Adults of both sexes have white feathers and black bills, legs and feet. In adults, plumage of the head and upper neck is sometimes stained reddish brown from the high iron content of the water in which they forage for vegetation and sometimes fish. Young trumpeter swans, or cygnets, are typically grey with grey-pink legs, feet, and bills. The brassy trumpet-like call for which the species is named helps distinguish trumpeters from the tundra swan, whose voice is softer and more melodious. The wedge-shaped bill of the trumpeter swan also helps to differentiate it from the smaller tundra swan, which has a sloped bill.

Common name: Trumpeter swan
Scientific name: Cygnus buccinator
Diet: Omnivorous
Average life span: 12 years
Length: 1.4-1.6 m
Weight: 9500-14000 g

Food & Habitat

Trumpeter swans prefer freshwater and coastal estuarine wetlands; flooded agricultural land.

The trumpeter swan gets much of its food by dabbling, using its long neck to reach for submerged vegetation. It supplements its diet with invertebrates and occasionally small fish and fish eggs. In winter, they will eat grasses, grains, and tuberous crops.

Breeding & Population

Trumpeter swans find mates at three to four years of age and typically mate for life. Once the nest has been constructed, females, or pens, lay an egg every second day until they have produced the full clutch, which averages five to six eggs. After hatching, the young cygnets stay in the nest with the pen for about a day until they are able to stay warm on their own. The young then remain with the adults until they return to the breeding ground the following spring.

Trumpeter swans are resident or medium-distant migrant. Their breeding grounds include coastal Alaska, northwestern Canada and the northern continental United States.


Birds breeding in coastal Alaska and Canada move to ice-free waters in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia for winter.

Interesting facts

  • Following a brush with extinction, trumpeter swans are making a comeback in North America. In 1933, overhunting by early European settlers had reduced the numbers of trumpeters to just 77 breeding adults in Canada and 50 breeding adults in the United States. Today, there are approximately 16,000 individuals in North America as a result of reintroduction programs, habitat conservation efforts, and sanctuaries that have successfully complemented a ban on hunting.
  • While the numbers of trumpeter swans have increased steadily, the species still faces a number of threats, with the loss of migratory traditions and reduced quality and quantity of winter habitat being chief among them. In British Columbia, where significant numbers of these swans winter, DUC has been very active with on-the-ground habitat conservation programs that have great benefits to swans. With the continuation of these conservation efforts, the future should remain bright for the trumpeter swan.