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Tundra Swan

What does it look like?

Adult Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) have entirely white plumage with black legs, feet, eyes, and bill. Tundra Swans can often be differentiated from the Trumpeter Swans by the presence of a yellow lore at the base of the bill, next to the eye. It is key to note however, that not all Tundra swans have yellow lores. When this is the case, identification becomes a tad bit more difficult. In these instances, the overall size of the bird should be noted. Tundra Swans are smaller than Trumpeter Swans and have thicker necks (see photo below). For those with a sharp eye for detail, the space between the eyes can be examined. If the black leading edge between the eyes is rounded, it is indicative of Tundra Swan. In contrast, Trumpeter Swans have a sharply pointed, V shaped black leading edge between the eyes. Additional identification recourses can be found here.

Tundra Swan is shown on the left swimming with a Trumpeter Swan on the Right. Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (CC BY 2.0).

Does it migrate?

Tundra Swans in North America migrate to the artic regions of Canada from Baffin Island and Hudson Bay to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, United States. During spring and fall migration Tundra Swans can be seen across Canada from British Columbia to Ontario as they head to overwintering grounds. Overwintering grounds in the west occur along the Pacific coast from southern British Columbia to California. In addition, several isolated overwintering areas occur through the western United States from Montana to Arizona. In the east, overwintering grounds occur along the Atlantic coast from Delaware to South Carolina.

Where does it live?

Tundra Swans are closely associated with aquatic habitats: coastal areas, marshes, and lakes. They feed primarily on vegetation both on land and under the water. During migration, when they are more often spotted across central Canada, Tundra Swans will often stopover in agricultural fields, sports fields, or marshes and ponds to feed and rest.

Tundra Swans in flight, Photo by Christian Artuso

Where can I see it?

Here in Manitoba, Tundra Swans most easily during spring migration in May. Key places to look across the southern portion of the province would be Oak Hammock Marsh, North and West Shoal Lakes, Delta Marsh, Oak Lake, and Whitewater Lake. The largest recent counts have come from the Carrot Valley south of The Pas, part of the Saskatchewan River Delta IBA. More than 9000 were counted on a single day in April 2017! Tundra Swans are the most common migratory swan species that can be seen in the province. While Trumpeter Swans are recorded every year in low numbers, they are typically uncommon.

Tundra Swans, Photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren (CC BY 2.0).

Conservation status:

Tundra Swans are considered to be a low conservation priority in North America, and are currently hunted during fall migration in Canada and the United States.

Did you know?

In North America, Tundra Swans were previously known as Whistling Swans due to their whistle-like calls. In Europe Tundra Swans are referred to as Bewick’s Swan even though they are the same species.

The Manitoba IBA Program is interested in hearing of any large groups of migrating Tundra Swans passing through your area. If you observe groups of more than 100 we would love to know. You can email Tim Poole with date, time, location and number at