Tundra Swan: Waterfowl Wednesday

Happy Waterfowl Wednesday, y’all! Today’s waterfowl species is the Tundra Swan. The Tundra Swan is one of New Jersey’s winter visitors. Dave and I were lucky enough to see 79 Tundra Swans on Day 3 of the Great Backyard Bird Count at Forsythe NWR.

Tundra Swans at Forsythe NWR (Image by David Horowitz)

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)


Tundras are large (53″) and adults have entirely white plumage (feathers). They have long necks, black feet/legs, and black bills. Their bills usually have yellow at the base. Immature Tundras have gray feathers on their heads, necks, and wings.

Adult Tundra Swans (Image by Becky Cairns)
(Image by Dan Mitchell)


Breeds in Northern Canada and Alaska in the summers. Winters in Southern Alaska through Baja, California extending towards Nevada and in the Mid-Atlantic states in the East


Tundras breed in the arctic tundra and winter in coastal waters and lakes.


They mainly eat plant matter. Tundras may also eat tubers, mollusks, aquatic vegetation, and anthropods. They may also sometimes graze in fields of rice or corn. In the Chesapeake Bay area, wintering swans will almost exclusively eat clams that they dig out from the mud.


Tundras will have 1 brood (family) a year, with a clutch (number of eggs) of 3-6 eggs.To created a pair-bond, the birds will face each other, call out loudly, and quickly quiver their wings. Both pair members will aid in constructing a nest out of grasses, moss, and other plants. The nest will be placed to water. The same nest will usually be used the following year. After about 30 days, the creamy white eggs will hatch and nestlings will fledge (leave the nest) around 2-3 months. Cygnets (young swans) will usually stay with their parents throughout the first winter.

(Image via animalspot.net)


High-pitched whistle-like whoo-oo, similar to an elephant

Fun Facts:

  • One way to tell the difference between a Tundra Swan and the similar looking Mute Swans is to look at the necks. Tundras will hold their necks straight up white Mutes will hold their neck in an S-shape.
  • Meriwether Lewis nicknames them “whistling swans”, due to their whistling calls.
  • Tundras can migrate in groups of over 100. They larger flock is made up of small family groups.
  • In the winter, Tundras will usually sleep while afloat in the water, but while breeding they will sleep on land.
  • The Tundra Swans is the smallest of the 3 North American swans (the other two are Trumpeter and Mute)

Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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