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Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus


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Tundra Swan
credit: Maga-chan/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Anatidae, Ducks and Geese view all from this family

Description ADULT Has essentially pure white plumage, although this can appear rather dirty after feeding in murky or oxide-rich waters. Legs are dark; bill is mainly dark, but note small yellow teardrop-shaped spot at base (absent in many individuals). Good views reveal bill to have a slightly concave upper profile (cf. Trumpeter Swan). JUVENILE Has grayish (not gleaming) white plumage, which gets whiter as winter progresses. Legs are dark and bill is dull pink, darkening with age.

Dimensions Length: 48-55" (1.2-1.4 m)

Habitat Nests beside tundra lakes and pools. Resting migrants usually stop off on rivers and lakes. Winters on coastal marshes and grassland, usually in vicinity of water (favored for roosting); up to 100,000 may winter in western North America.

Observation Tips Pairs are typically solitary and widely dispersed while nesting and hence difficult to locate. However, birds are gregarious outside breeding season and seen in sizeable flocks in winter; this is the best time of year to look for the species. Good numbers occur in California's Central Valley.

Range Texas, Northwest, Eastern Canada, Alaska, Southeast, California, Great Lakes, Florida, Rocky Mountains, Mid-Atlantic, Western Canada, Plains, Southwest, New England

Voice Utters a honking bark kow-Hooo.

Discussion A large, rather dumpy-bodied wetland bird. The proportionately long neck, short legs, and all-white adult plumage make identification relatively easy although confusion of adult birds with Trumpeter Swan is possible; juveniles are seldom seen away from company of adults. Sexes are similar. Tundra Swans feed on vegetation; terrestrial plants are "grazed" while aquatic plants are collected by submerging the long neck, and sometimes upending the body too. In flight, head and neck are held outstretched.