The tundra swan is a large, white bird that visits the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers and wetlands from autumn through spring.
Black bill, often with a yellow spot at the base in front of the eye
Long, slender neck held straight in the air
Grows to about 4.5 feet with a wingspan of more than 5 feet
Males tend to be slightly larger than females
Found on shallow fresh and brackish waters in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers, wetlands and marshes
Usually lives and travels in flocks. Some wintering flocks can be quite large.
Migrates to the Bay region in late October and early November
In early spring, migrates back to the Arctic tundra to breed
May be observed during migration in central Pennsylvania and other parts of the Bay watershed
Eats seeds and bay grasses such as redhead grass, widgeon grass and sago pondweed
Feeds by submerging its head and neck underwater to reach its food, sometimes “tipping up” its tail in the process
Will also eat winter wheat and other grains in farm fields
Foxes, gulls and weasels prey on swan eggs and young
Migrates in large V-shaped or ribbon-like flocks
Takes flight by running across the water and slapping its wings on the surface
Flocks are often heard before they can be seen
Makes a high, whooping woo-hoo, woo-hoo, woo-hoo
Tundra Swan courtesy of Pamela C. Rasmussen/Avian Vocalizations Center
Reproduction and Life Cycle:
Breeds during the summer in the Arctic tundra of Canada and Alaska
In autumn, adults and their young, called cygnets, fly south to the Bay region
Cygnets are as large as adults but are brownish-gray. They molt to white by late winter or early spring, when the swans return to the tundra to breed.
Also known as the whistling swan
The most widespread swan in North America
One of only two native swan species in North America. The other native swan, the trumpeter swan, is a rare visitor to the Bay region.
Can be confused with the invasive mute swan. You can distinguish a tundra swan by its black bill and straight neck. Also, tundra swans are only found in the Bay region from late autumn through early spring, while mute swans live here year-round.
During winter, tundra swans sleep mostly on the water