Tamarac Interpretive Association
Trumpeter Swans
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Trumpeter Swans
Cygnus buccinator

What do they look like?

Adult trumpeter swans truly look impressive with their deep snowy plumage, rich black bill, feet, and legs, and 8 foot wingspan.  A close look shows the swans have a thin salmon red line on the lower part of their bill.  The upper part of the neck and head may become stained orange due to the mineral deposits found in the water the swans feed in.  Molting occurs once a year, leaving them flightless for about one month.  The young (cygnets) have grey plumage and yellow feet and legs.  Males (cobs) are about 59 inches in length and weigh 21-28 pounds.  Females (pens) are about 57 inches in length and can weigh 20-25 pounds.  Trumpeter swans are sometimes mistaken for other North American swans; the tundra swan (formally known as the whistling swan) and mute swan.  The tundra swan is half the size of a trumpeter swan, has a high whistling call and most of the time a small yellow spot on its bill, and migrates long distances.  The trumpeter swan is about twice the size, has a deep trumpeting call and yellow is absent on its bill, and only migrates short distances.  Mute swans curve their necks in to an “S” shape when flying whereas trumpeter swans fly with their long necks fully extended and erect. 

Where do they live?

Trumpeter swans live in wetland areas near rivers, lakes, ponds, and marshes, open wooded habitats, and prairie regions.  Their historic range included Alaska, almost all of Canada and the northern region of the United States to Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.  Today, the swans are found in Alaska, parts of Canada including British Columbia and Alberta, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Minnesota.  Reintroduction of the swans into Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota are currently in action.  Today, there are approximately 16,000 swans in North America, with 13,000 of them finding homes in Alaska.  Minnesota now contains over 1,200 swans. 

What is their diet?

Young cygnets eat mainly aquatic insects and crustaceans.  Around 5 weeks old, they begin to consume a more herbivorous diet.  By 2-3 months old, cygnets eat the same food as adults.  Important plants in swans’ diets include the tubers of duck potato and sago pondweed.  They also feed on stems, leaves, and seeds of numerous other aquatic plants.  Their webbed feet are used to dig into the lake bottom and uproot plant material.  They then use their long necks to consume their food underwater.

Do they have predators?

Eggs and young are mostly preyed upon by such predators as snapping turtles, coyotes, river otters, mink, golden eagles, great horned owls, and raccoons.  Once the adult size is reached, trumpeter swans are rarely preyed upon by natural predators.  Illegal shooting and collisions with power lines do make adult swans vulnerable, however.

What about breeding, nesting, and development?

At around 3 years old, the swans find life-long mates.  They nest the following year at around late March and early May.  The nesting locations are found on small islands, on top of muskrat and beaver lodges, or on shore.  A breeding pair usually nests in the same place year after year.  They both uproot cattails, sedges, bulrushes, and horsetail.  Only the pen, however, constructs the plant material into a nest.  Completion of the nest is reached in about 2 weeks, when the nest has reached a diameter of 6-12 feet and averages 18 inches tall.  The pen will then lay her eggs every other day until she has reached her clutch size of 3-9 eggs.  The incubation period lasts about 35 days.  While the pen attends the eggs, the cob defends the nest.  Once hatched, the cygnets grow quickly.  By 8-10 weeks of age, they are fully feathered and are half of the adult size.  They first fly around 13-17 weeks old.  The offspring will stay with their parents through the first winter and will not develop white plumage until the second winter. 

Swans at Tamarac

2002 wildlife survey results at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge showed 9 breeding pairs of swans on 8 different lakes, with 48 cygnets produced.  These numbers offer a great contribution to the Refuge since trumpeter swans were first introduced in 1987 by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.  Pine Lake and Blackbird Lake are good places to see trumpeter swans loafing.  This can be seen on the 5 mile Blackbird Tour, which is open May through November.  For more information, contact Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge at 218-847-2641, V/TTY 1-800-657-3775 or go to

Quick Facts

Trumpeter swans are the largest swans in the world, and are the largest waterfowl species in Norm America

Newly hatched young are able to swim immediately but they usually stay in the nest for a least another 24 hours.

Due to hunting and habitat loss, in 1932 fewer than 70 trumpeter swans existed worldwide.

They get their name from the bold, brassy "trumpeting call they make.

During harsh conditions a dense down of up to 5 cm. think will form.


Tamarac Interpretive Association, 35704 Co. Hwy. 26, Rochert MN 56578-9638