The Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus
Buccinator), one of the most beautiful of water birds, is
the largest amongst all of the swan species, as well as amongst all
waterfowl. Unlike the Mute
Swan (which was introduced to North America by
Europe) the Trumpeter Swan is native to North America, along with the Tundra
Considering the fact that they almost grew extinct in the
early 1900's, it is amazing that they have made a great comeback. I'm
glad that they are still part of the Canadian wildlife.
Prior to the 19th century Trumpeter Swans were fairly common all across
the northern prairies. However, they almost grew extinct in the early
1900's, because they were
being hunted for their down, feathers and meat, and also because they
were losing their nesting grounds due to human settlement. Thanks to an
international restoration program that started in the
1930's, they survived and their numbers are gradually growing. Today
they are found mostly in western
Canada, Alaska and other parts of the
The Trumpeter Swan can weigh up to 35 pounds and its wingspan measures
somewhere around 7 to 8 feet! It stands about 4 feet high and is 5 to 6
feet in body length. Trumpeters have a black bill (which is longer than
that of the Tundra Swan)
black feet. They live in lakes, ponds and rivers, and feed on seeds,
grains and wetland plants as well as snails, insects and small fish.
Their thick layers of down makes it possible for them to tolerate harsh
winter temperatures as low as -30 C. Trumpeters earned their name
because of the trumpet-like sound they make.
Trumpeter Swans are divided into three main populations: the Pacific
Coast, the Rocky Mountains, and the Interior. The Pacific
Coast Population is the largest one and breeds in
Alaska and western Canada while they winter south to the Columbia
River. The Rocky Mountain Population being the second largest
population has two separate sub-populations: A year-round resident
flock remains around the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in
Montana, whereas a Canadian flock migrates into the same region for the
winter. The Interior Population, which includes all Trumpeters
east of the Rocky Mountains, is the result of more than thirty years of
Swans stay in swamps, marshes, and shallow forested lakes in the
summer. As they are very sensitive to human activity they will quickly
abandon prime habitat when disturbed. In order to survive the winter
for ice-free water to find enough food. The coastal populations find
appropriate wintering habitat in estuaries and protected coastlines.
The Rocky Mountain
flock, forced by severe weather, concentrates in the Greater
Ecosystem where geothermal activity prevents freezing.
Trumpeter Swans mate for
begin their courtship on the wintering grounds at two to three years of
The courtship ritual
(YouTube) is an amazing show and includes synchronized swimming, head
bobbing, blowing in the water, and "singing". They may not nest for
or two, but when they’re ready for breeding, couples arrive on their
grounds before all the ice has melted, to claim and defend large
(70-400 acres). They prefer large bodies of water with plenty of food
dense surrounding vegetation for privacy, and sufficient room for
Soon after arrival the pairs start building their
nest, either by restoring
the previous year's nest or by selecting a new site. The nest is often
top of muskrat houses or beaver lodges. It measures up to 2.5 m across
rises 40 cm above the water line. The female (called a pen) usually
large off-white eggs and hatches for 33-35 days, leaving the nest only
short periods to feed herself while the male (or the cob) swims nearby,
guarding against predators.
Newly hatched cygnets are covered with fluffy pale
gray down. After a day or
two they leave the nest, starting to learn to feed themselves with the
the parents who break off plant material so that it floats to the
the cygnets can reach it. It’s not unusual for swan families to lose
half of their youngsters due to cold, wet weather, parasites,
food, or predators. Cygnets get their first feathers after one month.
weeks they are fully covered with feathers of a light brownish-gray. By
weeks they reach a weight of about 9 kg and start learning to fly. The
the northern climates don’t have much time to perfect flight before
to leave the rapidly freezing lakes for wintering grounds.
the Trumpeter Swan
Though the Trumpeters are being protected throughout the
United States and Canada since 1935, today large numbers are dying due to lead contamination
such as The Trumpeter
Swan Society, the
Canadian Wildlife Service, The
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the US Fish and Wildlife
Service, non-profit organizations, and concerned citizens are working
hard to find out where the swans are picking up the lead shot. They are
doing their best to protect these magical birds, but the lead
contamination is still an ongoing fight.
Join the Trumpeter Swan Society if
you want to volunteer and extend your help in saving these birds. Hunters can be of great help too
by switching from toxic lead to non-toxic ammunition.
Non-toxic shot has been required for all waterfowl hunting in the
United States (since 1991) and in Canada (since 1999). All lead
ammunition is toxic to wildlife and the environment. Help
preserve the majestic
Swans are truly beautiful birds which can even be the subject of
decorative floral arrangements.
A variety of white flowers, such as orchids, may be used to create a
swan centerpiece. While such an ornate creation would not be available
by next day flower delivery it would certainly be
worth the wait for any wedding or other special occasion.