Tundra Swan

Cygnus columbianus

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    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.

  • Range

    Migrates to the Bay region in late October and early November. Migrates back to the Arctic tundra in early spring to breed; may be observed during migration in central Pennsylvania and other parts of the Bay watershed.

  • Diet

    Feeds on seeds and bay grasses such as redhead grass, widgeon grass and sago pondweed

  • Lifespan

    Up to 20 years

  • Status

    Stable

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.

Appearance

The tundra swan has a white body and long, slender neck held straight in the air. It has a black bill, often with a yellow spot at the base in front of the eye. It grows to about 4.5 feet with a wingspan of more than 5 feet; males tend to be slightly larger than females.

Feeding

This bird eats seeds and bay grasses such as redhead grass, widgeon grass and sago pondweed. It feeds by submerging its head and neck underwater to reach its food, sometimes “tipping up” its tail in the process. It will also eat winter wheat and other grains in farm fields.

Predators

Foxes, gulls and weasels prey on swan eggs and young.

Flight

Tundra swans migrate in large V-shaped or ribbon-like flocks. Flocks are often heard before they can be seen. They are strong flyers and take flight by running across the water and slapping their wings on the surface.

Voice

The tundra swan makes a high, whooping woo-hoo, woo-hoo, woo-hoo.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Breeding occurs 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.

Did You Know?

  • Tundra swans are also known as the whistling swan. They are the most widespread swan in North America.
  • The tundra swan is 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.
  • They 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.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    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.

  • Range

    Migrates to the Bay region in late October and early November. Migrates back to the Arctic tundra in early spring to breed; may be observed during migration in central Pennsylvania and other parts of the Bay watershed.

  • Diet

    Feeds on seeds and bay grasses such as redhead grass, widgeon grass and sago pondweed

  • Lifespan

    Up to 20 years

  • Status

    Stable