Living Bird Magazine
Trumpeter SwanCygnus buccinator
- ORDER: Anseriformes
- FAMILY: Anatidae
Trumpeter Swans demand superlatives: they’re our biggest native waterfowl, stretching to 6 feet in length and weighing more than 25 pounds - almost twice as massive as a Tundra Swan. Getting airborne requires a lumbering takeoff along a 100-yard runway. Despite their size, this once-endangered, now recovering species is as elegant as any swan, with a graceful neck and snowy-white plumage. They breed on wetlands in remote Alaska, Canada, and the northwestern U.S., and winter on ice-free coastal and inland waters.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for these enormous swans on relatively shallow water or in agricultural fields. They’ll be straighter-necked than Mute Swans (and more likely to be in wild habitats rather than city ponds); and they’ll be considerably larger than the similar Tundra Swan. Trumpeter Swans have expanded their range in recent years as they continue their comeback from near-extinction. In fact, the species now nests across a broad swath of the Midwest/Great Lakes and in scattered portions of the Northern Rockies - meaning that in summer you’re more likely to find this species than the much more numerous Tundra Swan. Look for them in shallow ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes. During migration and winter, you may also find Trumpeter Swans feeding in harvested agricultural fields.
- Cisne Trompetero (Spanish)
- Cygne trompette (French)
- Cool Facts
- Trumpeter Swans are impressively large—males average over 26 pounds, making them North America’s heaviest flying bird. To get that much mass aloft the swans need at least a 100 meter-long “runway” of open water: running hard across the surface, they almost sound like galloping horses as they generate speed for take off.
- Starting in the 1600s, market hunters and feather collectors had decimated Trumpeter Swans populations by the late 1800s. Swan feathers adorned fashionable hats, women used swan skins as powder puffs, and the birds’ long flight feathers were coveted for writing quills. Aggressive conservation helped the species recover by the early 2000s.
- Overhunting of muskrats and beavers may have harmed Trumpeter Swans, too: the swans nest on their dens and dams. As the rodents’ populations recovered, breeding habitat for the swans also improved.
- Trumpeter Swans form pair bonds when they are three or four years old. The pair stays together throughout the year, moving together in migratory populations. Trumpeters are assumed to mate for life, but some individuals do switch mates over their lifetimes. Some males that lost their mates did not mate again.
- Trumpeter Swans take an unusual approach to incubation: they warm the eggs by covering them with their webbed feet.
- The Trumpeter Swan’s scientific name, Cygnus buccinator, is from the Latin Cygnus (swan) and buccinare (to trumpet). We humans have a buccinator muscle in our cheeks—we use it to blow out candles and to blow into trumpets and other instruments.
- A “voiceless” Trumpeter Swan named Louis was the main character in E. B. White’s 1970 children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan. Louis courted his partner Serena by playing a trumpet.
- Although awkward on the ground due to short legs set behind their center of gravity, they can walk more than a mile at a time, even when traveling with cygnets less than a week old.
- The oldest known Trumpeter Swan was a female, and at least 26 years, 2 months old when she was identified by her bank in the wild, in Wisconsin. One captive individual lived to be 32.