tundra swan, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USFWS
John and Karen Hollingsworth, US Fish and Wildlife Service, license: public domain


-migrates between the Canadian Arctic or Alaska and winter grounds in the United States.
-flies 6 000 km twice a year
-once called the "whistling swan" because of the sound made by the bird's wings in flight.
-population about 140 000
-types of swans found in Canada : Tundra Swans, Trumpeter Swans and Mute Swans
-Tundra Swans are the most common.
-scientific name cygnus columbianus


-large bird with white feathers, short black legs, large black webbed feet
-black beak with a small yellow patch in front of their eyes
-feathers on neck and head have a reddish tinge (when feeding in iron-rich areas)
-average male weighs 7.5 kg. and can measure 1.3 m from bill to tail
-adult female nearly the same size but weighs less, about 6.3 kg.
-adults moult (shed feathers) during August
-unable to fly for several weeks till new wing feathers grow
-young are grey, pinkish beaks with black tips, pink legs and feet
-takes about two years to look like the adult


-float on the water while sleeping
-dart across surface of water, beating wings to take flight
-each pair has a large nesting territory
-early September they fly to larger lakes that do not freeze yet
-spend a few weeks feeding before migrating south to United States for the winter
-form flocks with other swans for the long migration
-gather in huge flocks at winter grounds

Tundra swans line up and start to run, flapping their wings
and slapping the water with their feet before takeoff.

tundra swans taking flight from the water
image from: flicker.com; license Creative Commons


-summer on the tundra of the Canadian Arctic and Alaska
-build nests and raise young near shallow pools, lakes or rivers
-two populations of Tundra Swans - eastern population and western population
-eastern population nest from Alaska to Baffin Island
-western population nest in northwestern Alaska
-eastern population winters on the Atlantic coast of the U.S.
-western population winters mainly in California.
-migrate 6 000 km (3725 miles) between these areas twice a year

tundra swans wintering in California
tundra swans in flooded field of Sacramento River Delta
image credit - Ingrid Taylar; Flickr.com; license Creative Commons


-mainly the tubers and roots of aquatic (water) plants that grow in shallow water
-dip head and neck downward into the water (tipping)
-mussels, clams, mollusks when wintering on the Atlantic coast
-also eat grains like corn, wheat, rice

swan tipping in the water
swan tipping in the water
image credit : Maga-chan;
Wikipedia ; license - Creative Commons


-nest on the tundra near ponds, lakes, rivers
-each pair has their own territory
-large cone-shaped nest on a low mound
-nest is made of sticks, lined with moss, sedges, and grasses
-may reuse nest each year
-begin to nest in late May or early June before the snow has melted
-cream-coloured eggs , 10-11 cm. long
-average numer is four eggs, may lay five or six eggs
-only the female sits on the nest
-the male remains guards the nest and defends their territory
-does not lay more eggs if others are destroyed

tundra swan on nest, USFWS


-babies are called cygnets
-have greyish downy feathers
-hatch in early July
-soon look for their own food
-must be kept warm by a parent sitting on them
-protects them from the cold and mosquitoes
-cold or starvation kills many young
-able to fly in early September
-young die if there is early freeze-up or they are unable to fly

tundra swan with cygnets
image copyright Emily Weiser , used with permission


-bite and beat their wings
-lower their necks, hiss and rush forward to attack
-very strong birds
-few natural enemies other than humans
-young and eggs are eaten by eagles, jaegers, wolves, foxes, bears


-no hunting of swans during migration and while on the wintering grounds
-water pollution and fewer marshes reduce food supplies
-swans are eating more grains instead

tundra swan in flight, Donna A. Dewhurst, USFWS
image credit : Donna A. Dewhurst, US Fish and Wildlife Service


information from Hinterland Who's Who - The Tundra Swan (Canadian Wildlife Services) | National Geographic



July 2009
updated August 2011
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