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Tundra Swan in Flight

Photos © Julia Flanagan, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Tundra Swan
Cygnus columbianus

The Tundra Swan is a small Holarctic swan.  The Whistling Swan and Berwick’s Swan are both species of Tundra Swans. The Whistling Swan is the most common swan species of North America.

The Tundra Swan is the smallest of the Holarctic swans. Adult birds of both subspecies have entirely whiteplumage with black feet, and a bill that is mostly black, with a thin salmon-pink streak running along the mouth line. The head and neck plumage acquires a golden or rusty hue in birds living is waters with large amount of iron ions.

Tundra Swans have high-pitched honking calls. They are particularly vocal when foraging in flocks on their wintering grounds.

As their common name implies, the Tundra Swan breeds in the Arctic and Subarctic tundra, where they inhabit shallow pools, lakes and rivers.

These migraory birds winter in grassland and marshland habitats, often near the coast.  They like to visit fields after harvest to feed on discarded grains and while on migration may stop over on mountain lakes.

The breeding range of Berwick’s Swan is the Arctic regions of Eurasia and they migrate to winter in Eurasia.

The Whistling Swan breeds in the coastal plains of Alaska and Canada. Birds breeding in western Alaska winter along the Pacific coast from southern Alaska to California and they often move inland, particularly to the rich feeding grounds in the Californian Central Valley.

The birds breeding along the Arctic Ocean coast migrate via Canada and the Great Lakes region to winter along the Atlantic coast of the USA, mainly from Maryland to South Carolina, but some move as far south as Florida.

In summer, their diet consists mainly of aquatic vegetation and also some grass growing on dry land.  At other times of year, leftover grains and other crops such as potatoes, picked up in open fields after harvest, make up much of their diet.