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Trumpeter Swan
Cygnus buccinator

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) swimming
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)


The Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) breeds on northern North America. Some members of this species nest on coastal regions of southern Alaska, including the islands nearby; others prefer the inland water deposits, reaching up to about the middle of the state during this season. In Canada breeding occurs on southern Yukon Territory and Northwest Territory, extending to northern British Columbia and Alberta.

During fall they move to the coastal region of British Columbia. Many spend the cold months along the coast of this province; others move inland, up to the Rocky Mountains; some go even further in, having been register as far as Manitoba. They are not very common further south than Vancouver Island, although some go as far as the state of Oregon. In Yellowstone National Park there is a sedentary colony that lives there all year long.

This swan has been introduced to many places in Canada and northern United States, reaching as far as the states of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Some of these swans are sedentary, others have been taught to migrate using ultralight airplanes.


Some two hundred years ago there were many more trumpeter swans; the estimated total population before Columbus was 130 thousand individuals. The limits of their distribution were also more extensive; extending as far as southern Quebec and in winter to the eastern coast of the continent from North Carolina to New Jersey and on the Mississippi River all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

From the mid 1800's hunting, and to a certain degree loss of habitat, reduced this species to almost extinction. The population declined to only 69 individuals on the Yellowstone National Park colony, no more than 200 nesting in Canada and the rest nesting in Alaska; the total count for the species was less than two thousand. Much effort was put into preserving this swan and at the present it is on its way to recovery; in Alaska the count increased from 2,847 in 1968 to 17,551 in 2000, with a considerable increase on the ones that breed in Canada and on the Yellowstone National Park colony.

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator), with the black beak.
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator),


Usually the pair is formed when they are from four to six years old. Once the bond is established, the probabilities of the relationship remaining for life are very good. If one of them dies, it is probable that the survivor will form a new pair. A female is documented of breeding with another male the next season after losing her mate.

The breeding season starts in spring. The pairs nest alone, rather far from each other; they turn aggressive during this time. A site is selected in spring which the pair defends until fall. Both, sedentary and migratory, populations are territorial during breeding.

The same nest could be used for some years. Plants are the main building material employed on the construction of the nest; in some places they are aquatic plants while in other locations grass is used. The location could be a floating platform or on the ground next to water. The structure is from two to four meters in diameter (three to six feet wide) by a meter high (three feet). The cavity in the center of the cup is 25 to 40 centimeters wide by 10 to 20 cm deep. The parents put feathers and down in this cavity.

The usual clutch is from one to ten eggs, the average is about five eggs. The female takes care of the incubation, which lasts from 33 to 37 days. The male remains with the female during incubation. Both parents take care of the cygnets.

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) out of the water
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator),


Adults' main diet consists of aquatic plants. This diet is complemented with small animals like insects and crustaceans.


The Trumpeter Swan is the giant of the family, with a wing span that could reach 2.97 meters (almost ten feet). The average weight of the males is 11.9 Kg. (over 26 pounds), the big ones weighing as much as 12.5 Kg. (27 and a half pounds). The females are slightly smaller with an average weight of 9.4 Kg. (over 20 and a half pounds).

Adults of both sexes have white plumage.


Besides its size, this swan can be identified from the others by the color of the beak. On this one, the beak is all black with no yellow or orange coloration.


During the molt this swan can not fly. It takes about thirty days for the new flight feathers to replace the old ones. During this time the bird is grounded. Not all trumpeter swans molt at the same time. The birds that do not breed are the first, changing their plumage in summer. On the pairs breeding, males molt before females, so that both parents do not loose the ability to fly at the same time. Some of the females are not able to fly until fall.

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)
Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator),


The Trumpeter Swan in Spanish is called “Cisne Trompetero”.

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Last revision: February 1, 2007
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