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Tundra Swan


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

On wintry days, flocks of North America’s most numerous swans gather on lakes and estuaries or descend out of gray skies. A characteristic whistling in their wings led Meriwether Lewis to call them “whistling swans,” a name still in use. These elegant creatures—slightly smaller than our other native species, the Trumpeter Swan—nest on arctic tundra and visit the U.S. only on migration and in winter. Most have a smudge of yellow at the base of their black bill, but otherwise are pure white.


Male and female Tundra Swans make a variety of bugling calls that are smoother and higher pitched than those of the Trumpeter Swan. These include a kuk-kuk contact call between parents and cygnets; a 1- or 2-syllable ou or oh used in flight, when flock members change, or when the flock gathers before dusk to roost; and an oo-ou-oo call, emphasizing the second syllable. This last call tends to be given when members of a pair reunite, after they land, and during or after an encounter with an opponent, as the birds shake their partially extended wings. In aggressive or defensive situations the adults make a hissing sound.

Other Sounds

Tundra Swans slap the water with their feet in response to an intruder or when they see or hear other swans in the distance. Air whistling through the wings of a swan in flight can be heard even when the bird is flying 100 feet or more overhead.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

Unless you’re in the arctic, don’t look for Tundra Swans in the summer. Instead, look for them on large bodies of water, particularly estuaries and protected coastal waters, during migration and in winter. You may also see flocks of these large white birds in agricultural fields where they are feeding on spilled or unharvested grains. Look for their distinctive straight-necked posture, as well as their characteristic large flocks, to separate them from Mute Swans.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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