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Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator)

Posted on Jan 30, 2015

Here in Chautauqua County we are accustomed to seeing Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) throughout the migratory and wintering seasons. If you are very lucky you may someday be able to pick out a Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) in similar habitats. The Trumpeter Swan, the largest of North America’s waterfowl, was nearly extinct in the early 20th century. Thankfully hunting for feathers for the quill pen market, among others, has ended and their numbers have rebounded. This is also due to hard work by the conservation community in North America.

It can be very difficult to separate a Trumpeter from a Tundra even with the difference in their sizes if they are not seen together. Tundras also do not always have the yellow spot in front of their eye. One has to be a bit more creative in identifying the correct species when there is only one or a handful of birds.

Trumpeter Swan pair-015

Both of these birds are Trumpeters and you can note what I believe is the easiest feature in distinguishing the species even at a distance and when isolated – the black bill connects to their eyes forming seemingly one large, long black mass. A Tundra Swan has a more disconnected look between the eye and the bill with only a thin black line present. There seems to be no separation here on this large mask and the birds have a longer, V-shaped head and bill as opposed to the rounder Tundra. These are not the only identification features one should rely upon but they are a good starting point to help identify a terrific sighting.

You could also be fortunate enough to find Trumpeter Swans with wing tags! You can read more information about the Trumpeter Swan Society tagging program in this document on their website.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator