My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator

The Trumpeter Swan is a species of swan found in North America.

The Trumpeter Swan is the largest extant species of waterfowl. Adults usually measure 138–165 cm (4 ft 6 in–5 ft 5 in) long, though large males can range up to 180 cm (71 in) or more in total length. The weight of adult birds is typically 7–13.6 kg (15–30 lb), with an average weight in males of 11.9 kg (26 lb) and 9.4 kg (21 lb) in females. The wingspan ranges from 185 to 250 cm (6 ft 1 in to 8 ft 2 in), with the wing chord measuring 60–68 cm (24–27 in). The largest known male Trumpeter attained a length of 183 cm (6 ft 0 in), a wingspan of 3.1 m (10 ft 2 in) and a weight of 17.2 kg (38 lb).

The adult Trumpeter Swan is all white in plumage. As with a Whooper Swan, this species has upright posture and generally swims with a straight neck. The Trumpeter Swan has a large, wedge-shaped black bill that can, in some cases, be minimally lined with salmon-pink coloration around the mouth. The bill, measuring 10.5–12 cm (4.1–4.7 in), is up to twice the length of a Canada Goose’s (Branta canadensis) bill and is the largest of any waterfowl. The legs are gray-pink in color, though in some birds can appear yellowish gray to even black. The tarsus measures 10.5–12 cm (4.1–4.7 in). The cygnets (juveniles) are grey in appearance, becoming white after the first year.

Their breeding habitat is large shallow ponds, undisturbed lakes, pristine wetlands and wide slow rivers, and marshes in northwestern and central North America, with the largest numbers of breeding pairs found in Alaska. They prefer nesting sites with enough space for them to have enough surface water for them to take off, as well as accessible food, shallow, unpolluted water, and little or no human disturbance. Natural populations of these swans migrate to and from the Pacific coast and portions of the United States, flying in V-shaped flocks. Released populations are mostly non-migratory. In the winter, they migrate to the southern tier of Canada, the eastern part of the northwest states in the United States, especially to the Red Rock Lakes area of Montana, the north Puget Sound region of northwest Washington state, they have even been observed as far south as Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Historically, they range as far south as Texas and southern California.

These birds feed while swimming, sometimes up-ending or dabbling to reach submerged food. The diet is almost entirely aquatic plants. They will eat both the leaves and stems of submerged and emergent vegetation. They will also dig into muddy substrate underwater to extract roots and tubers. In winter, they may also eat grasses and grains in fields. They will often feed at night as well as by day. Feeding activity, and the birds’ weights, often peaks in the spring as they prepare for the breeding season. The young are fed on insects, small fish, fish eggs and small crustaceans along with plants initially, providing additional protein, changing to a vegetation-based diet over the first few months.

Trumpeter Swans often mate for life, and both parents participate in raising their young, but primarily the female incubate the eggs. Most pair bonds are formed when swans are 4 to 7 years old, although some pairs do not form until they are nearly 20 years old. “Divorces” have been known between birds, in which case the mates will be serially monogamous, with mates in differing breeding seasons. Occasionally, if his mate dies, a male Trumpeter Swan may not pair again for the rest of his life. Most egg laying occurs between late April and May. The female lays 3–12 eggs, with 4 to 6 being average, in a mound of plant material on a small island, a beaver or muskrat lodge, or a floating platform on a clump of emergent vegetation. The same location may be used for several years and both members of the pair help build the nest. The nest consists of a large, open bowl of grasses, sedges and various aquatic vegetation and have ranged in diameter from 1.2 to 3.6 m (3.9 to 11.8 ft), the latter after repeated uses. The eggs average 73 millimetres (2.9 in) wide, 113.5 millimetres (4.5 in) long, and weigh about 320 grams (11.3 oz). The incubation period is 32 to 37 days, mainly by the female, although occasionally by the male as well. The young are able to swim within two days and usually are capable of feeding themselves after at most two weeks. The fledging stage is reached at roughly 3 to 4 months. While nesting, Trumpeter Swans are territorial and harass other animals, including conspecifics, who enter the area of their nest.

Adults go through a summer moult when they temporarily lose their flight feathers. The females become flightless shortly after the young hatch; the males go through this process about a month later when the females have completed their moult.

On to my photos:

Trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans


Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swan

This is number 156 in my photo life list, only 194 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!



13 responses

  1. These look very similar to the tundra swans that I saw, so what is the best way to tell them apart? The curve in the neck? These seem to have more of a curve to their neck and the tundra swans keep their necks straight.

    Very educational once again, Jerry! Thank you for all your research to give us such good information.

    May 16, 2014 at 7:04 am

    • Telling trumpeters from tundra swans is difficult. Trumpeters run slightly larger, and if you look straight at their face, the black area where the bill meets their face comes to a sharp “V”. Looking at a tundra swan the same way, the black area is more of a shallow “U”, and they usually have a small yellow patch between their bill and eye.

      Another way to tell them apart is their voices, you can go to and listen to recordings of each species.

      I thought that “your” swans were really trumpeters, but I wasn’t 100% positive, nor does it really matter, as to most people, they are the same.

      May 16, 2014 at 7:34 am

      • Interesting. I’m trying to remember now what I read in the two bird guides we have up north. My guide here at home doesn’t even have tundra swans in it and only a brief mention of trumpeter swans and no illustration of them, only “whistler” swans. (Can you tell it’s an old guide? LOL)

        May 16, 2014 at 7:27 pm

      • Okay, after going to the web site I guess I have to change the identification on the photos on my blog. Poop! 🙂 I really do try to be accurate.

        May 16, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      • I wouldn’t bother changing your blog, no one will notice. I sometimes report my sightings to eBird, and for several species that are hard to tell apart, they let you fill in a space that functions like either or, in the case of the swans, it would say “Swans sp, trumpeter/tundra” because most people can’t tell them apart.

        May 16, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      • The sound really was the clincher – I had taken that video of them honking and they definitely have the honk of the trumpeter, not the higher pitch quacky sound of the tundra. But I’m fairly certain my new guide up north had them as the same, as you say.

        May 16, 2014 at 7:54 pm

      • Hey, just wanted to let you know I just ordered my new camera!! So excited. It should be here before we head up north for Memorial weekend, so hopefully my new journal posts will have better quality photos. We’ll see, since it took me 2 years to start getting good pictures with the Kodak! LOL You are one of the few people I could share my excitement with! 🙂

        May 17, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      • Congratulations! When it arrives, put it in the “P” for program mode and shoot away, you’ll love the results for the most part, you can learn as you go.

        May 17, 2014 at 5:44 pm

      • Okay, that is what I will do! 😀

        May 17, 2014 at 5:57 pm

  2. I’ve never seen any type of swan that I can remember but I’d like to so I could compare their size to geese and great blue herons.

    May 16, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    • One of these days I shoot a photo of a swan and goose close together so that you can see that swans are about twice the size of a goose.

      May 16, 2014 at 7:25 pm

  3. Swans! Yay!II

    May 17, 2014 at 6:43 am

    • Thanks!

      May 17, 2014 at 7:59 am