Lee Richardson Zoo

Trumpeter Swan

Order:  Anseriformes – ducks, geese, swans, mergansers

Family:  Anatidae – ducks, geese, and swans

Scientific Name:  Cygnus cygnus buccinator


Description:  The largest of the species of swans, the adult Trumpeter can grow to a length of 58 ½ - 72”, (including their neck), weigh up to 28 lbs. and have an 8’ wing span.  Unlike ducks, the male and the slightly smaller female Trumpeter swan are similar in color, with plumage that is entirely white.  Juveniles have some gray plumage up to 1 year after hatching.  The lack of yellow in the swan’s bill, and the presence of a narrow, flesh colored stripe at the base of the mandible are identifying characteristics.  The black bill is flattened, broad and rounded at the tip with fine lamellae at the edges to aid the bird in food handling and straining organisms from the water.  The iris is dark brown, and legs and feet are black.  When not alert they hold their neck in a slightly curved drooping position with a subtle bend at the base.


Home Range: Once fairly common throughout most of the northern United States and Canada.  Their current breeding range is southern Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta and Wyoming, with local reeding on various wildlife refuges in several western states.


Habitat Type:  Trumpeter Swans can be found in boreal forests, mountain pine forests, the western edge of eastern deciduous forests, short grass plains and tall grass prairies. The presence of water is of utmost importance in the swan’s habitat because it provides security, seclusion, and adequate foraging and nesting opportunities.


Reproduction:  Trumpeter swans form life long bonds with their mates.  Pair formation occurs in the fall or winter of their 2nd year.  A triumph ceremony is performed between the pair, which involves mutual head movements (bobbing), wing lifting and calling, typically done when the pair is nesting or after having turned away an intruder.  Both sexes participate in the building of the nest, which may be constructed on the ground, on top of muskrat houses, on islands, or along shorelines.  Uprooted marsh plants are used in the building of the nest, which can take from 2-5 weeks.   Breeding takes place between March and May.  A clutch of 5-8 cream to white colored eggs are laid and are 4 ½ x 3 inches in size.  The nest is heavily guarded by the male, so very little natural predation occurs.  The female incubates the eggs for 33-37 days.  Depending on the geographical location, the chicks fledge in 84-120 days and grow rapidly on a diet of animal life in their early weeks, especially on aquatic insects and mollusks.  Sexual maturity occurs at 3-4 years of age.  Only 1 brood a year is produced.


Diet in the Wild:  The adult diet consists of almost all vegetation including leafy parts, stems, seeds, and tubers of aquatic plants.  Crustaceans and occasionally small vertebrates make up part of the swan’s diet also.  In dry land locations they will eat grasses and other pasture plants.


Diet in the Zoo:  Waterfowl maintenance, and food obtained through natural foraging.


General Information:  The loud, resonating call for which the Trumpeter swan is known is possible because of a loop in the trachea that extends down into its hollowed out sternum.  With this magnificent voice it will sound out a series of loud, low and single-pitched, trumpet-like notes:  koo-hoo. 


Conservation Status:  Trumpeter Swans were on the verge of extinction in the 1900’s because of a large trade in swan skins and feathers.  The United States population was down to 69 birds in 1932.  Through the establishment of refuges, conservation efforts and reintroduction efforts the population has reached nearly 3,000 birds in the lower 48 states and nearly 12,000 in Alaska.  It was removed from the Endangered Species List in the mid 1970’s. 


Predators:  Cygnets are eaten by snapping turtles, birds of prey, mink, raccoons, coyotes, and foxes.  Adults are occasionally taken by mammalian and avian predators.



Audubon Society Masterguide to Birding Vol. I. 1983. John Farrand, Jr.  Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 140pp. 


A Guide to Field Identification Birds of North America.1983. Chandler S.  Robbins, Bertel Bruun and Herbert S. Zim. Golden Press New York. 38, 39 pp.


Birds  in Kansas Vol. I.  Max C. Thompson and Charles Ely. 1989. University of Kansas Press. 65 pp.


Birds Their Life Their Ways Their World. 1976. Dr. Christopher Perrins and Dr. C. J. O. Harrison.  The Reader’s Digest Associations, Inc. 207-209 pp.


Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World. 1978. Paul A. Johngard.  University of Nebraska Press. 36-38 pp.


Encyclopedia of Aviculture Vol. I.  1970.  A. Rutgers and K. A. Norris  Blandford Press.  103 pp.


Handbook of the Birds of the World Vol. I.  1992. Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott and Jordi Sargatal.  Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.  578 pp.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website