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Cygnus columbianus

(Tundra Swan)


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Interesting Facts

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Common Names

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Click on the language to view common names.

Common Names in Afrikaans:

Bewick swaan

Common Names in Armenian:

Կարապ փոքր

Common Names in Azerbaijani:

Amerika ququşu

Common Names in Breton:

Alarc'h Bewick

Common Names in Bulgarian:

Малък лебед

Common Names in Catalan, Valencian:

Cigne petit

Common Names in Chinese:


Common Names in Czech:

Labuť malá

Common Names in Danish:


Common Names in Dutch:

Fluitzwaan, Kleine zwaan

Common Names in English:

Tundra Swan, American swan, Bewick's swan, Tundra Swan(Bewick s Swan/Whistling Swan), Whistling Swan

Common Names in Esperanto:

Malgranda cigno

Common Names in Estonian:


Common Names in Finnish:


Common Names in French:

Cygne de Bewick, cygne siffleur

Common Names in German:

Pfeifschwan, Zwergschwan

Common Names in Hungarian:

Kis hattyú

Common Names in Icelandic:


Common Names in Inupiaq:


Common Names in Italian:

Cigno minore

Common Names in Japanese:

アメリカコハクチョウ, コハクチョウ

Common Names in Kazakh:

Кіші аққу

Common Names in Korean:


Common Names in Latvian:

Mazais gulbis

Common Names in Lithuanian:

Mažoji gulbė

Common Names in Northern Sami:


Common Names in Norwegian:


Common Names in Norwegian Nynorsk:


Common Names in Persian (Farsi):

قوی توندرا

Common Names in Polish:

Łabędź czarnodzioby

Common Names in Portuguese:

Cisne pequeno

Common Names in Russian:

Американский лебедь, Лебедь американский, Малый лебедь

Common Names in Slovak:

Labuť malá

Common Names in Spanish:

Cisne Chico, Cisne de tundra, Cisne Silbador

Common Names in Spanish, Castilian:

Cisne Chico, Cisne de tundra, Cygnus columbianus columbianus

Common Names in Swedish:

Mindre sångsvan, Tundrasvan

Common Names in Turkish:

Küçük kuğu

Common Names in Vietnamese:

Thiên nga nhỏ

Common Names in Welsh:

Alarch Bewick

Common Names in Western Frisian:

Lytse Swan


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Physical Description

Adult : Head : Shape : rounded Bill: black Upper Mandible: slightly concave.


Adult : Black bill with variably-sized yellow spot at base · Culmen somewhat concave · Black of bill extends up to eye but does not encircle it · Straight demarcation on forehead between black bill and white feathering · Black legs and feet · Entirely white plumage · Sexes similar

Immature : Body grayer than adult


About 47 to 58 inches long, with a wingspan of 72 to 84 inches. Adults weigh about 251.2 ounces .


Vegetation: freshwater lakes and ponds • Maximum Elevation: 2,000 meters • Sensitivity to Disturbance: Low

Typically found in a lake at a mean distance from sea level of 301.41 meters (988.88 feet).[2]

Ecology: Behaviour This species is fully migratory and travels on a narrow front via specific routes using well-known stop-over sites3 between its Arctic breeding and temperate wintering grounds1. It arrives on the breeding grounds from early-May to late-June3 (depending on local conditions)2 where it breeds well-dispersed5 in single pairs1, occasionally nesting semi-colonially in optimum habitats2, 3. After breeding the species undergoes a flightless moulting period lasting for c.30 days between late-June and early-September, gathering in flocks on open waters3, 4. Family groups leave the breeding grounds from early-September to late-October3 and arrive on the wintering grounds from mid-October onwards3. During this autumn migration some groups may remain at stop-over sites until moved on by cold weather3. The return northward migration occurs from early-March, with the species travelling in small parties that disperse on arrival in the Arctic3. The species is gregarious outside of the breeding season , often gathering into large flocks of hundreds or thousands of individuals on the wintering grounds2, 3. The species forages by day (where undisturbed)1 and roosts at night on open water2. Habitat Breeding The species breeds near shallow pools , lakes1 and broad slow-flowing rivers1, 2 with emergent littoral vegetation and pondweeds (e.g. Potamogeton spp. ) connected to coastal delta areas2 in open, moist, low-lying sedge-grass or moss-lichen2 Arctic tundra1. It rarely nests in shrub tundra , and generally avoids forested areas2. Non-breeding On migration the species frequents shallow ponds2, lowland and upland lakes2, 3, reservoirs3, riverine marshes, shallow saline lagoons2 and sheltered coastal bays and estuaries3. During the winter it inhabits brackish and freshwater marshes3, rivers , lakes , ponds2 and shallow tidal estuarine areas1, 2 with adjacent grasslands1, flooded pastures2 or agricultural arable fields1, 2 below 100 m5. Diet The species is predominantly herbivorous1, its diet consisting of the seeds, fruits, leaves, roots , rhizomes and stems of aquatic plants (e.g. Potamogeton, Zostera and Glyceria spp.), grasses1, sedges, reeds (Phragmites and Typha spp.)2 and herbaceous tundra vegetation2. During the winter the species complements its diet with agricultural grain and vegetables1 (e.g. potatoes1 and sugar beet2), and may also take estuarine invertebrates such as molluscs , amphipods (e.g. Corophium spp.) and polycheate worms on tidal mudflats prior to migration2. Breeding site The nest is a large mound of plant matter positioned on elevated ground1 such as a ridge or hummock, often at some distance from feeding pools to reduce to the risk of flooding2. The species may re-use a nest from the previous year or build a new one, and although it is not colonial , many pairs may nest close together in optimum habitats (e.g. 5-16 pairs per 10 km2)2. Management information An experiment carried out in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, California found that in wetland habitats where clay hardpans underlie wetland sediments tilling (plowing) the soil may be an effective means of reducing lead shot availability to waterfowl8. Plowing was found to reduce the amount of shot available to depths of 20-30 cm (below the foraging zone of the species)8.


List of Habitats:


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Green plant matter, seeds, and aquatic invertebrates .


Clutch Size: 5 Length of Incubation : 35-40 days Days to Fledge : 60-70+ Number of Broods: 1



Tundra swans migrate to their northern breeding grounds , from Alaska's Bristol Bay to Baffin Island, with the first spring thaw. They fly in chevrons of 25 to 100 birds. Perhaps 70,000 have wintered in the Chesapeake Bay and San Francisco Bay marshes. Smaller numbers come from other Atlantic Coast estuaries, the Klamath Basin of the northwest, the Carson Sink of Nevada, the Bear River of Utah, the Columbia River of Oregon, and even southern New Mexico. A European subspecies is extremely similar to North American tundra swans, but they do not migrate to this continent. By mid-May nearly all have arrived in the treeless tundra country of the far north. They are believed to pair for life, and they breed at two to three years. They lay an average of four eggs , which take about 30 days to hatch , in a depression lined with grass , moss, willow and down . Chicks (cygnets) can dive in water at about 10 days of age. They can fly by the age of 10 weeks. Tundra swans leave the nesting areas in late September, and weather can be a severe factor before and during their migrations. They migrate as family units . Tundra swans reach their wintering grounds from mid-November into December. Those bound for the Atlantic Coast make tremendous flights, flying day and night with infrequent stops, at altitudes of 3,000 to 5,000 feet.(Ref. 109946)


Tundra swan displays are like small dramas: Adults may land on water, face each other, spread their wings and call loudly. After a brief time, the birds separate and feed quietly. If they are alarmed, their long necks are stretched up, their bills pointing skyward. (Ref. 109946)

A group of swans may sound like a flock of noisy Canada geese, but their calls are more musical then honking.[1]


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Cygnus columbianus (Ord) • Cygnus columbianus (Ord, 1815)


Name Status: Accepted Name .

Last scrutiny: 23-Jan-2007

Similar Species

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Trumpeter Swan

Members of the genus Cygnus

ZipcodeZoo has pages for 13 species and subspecies in this genus:

C. atratus (Black Swan) · C. bewickii (Bewick’s Swan) · C. buccinator (Trumpeter Swan) · C. columbianus (Tundra Swan) · C. columbianus atlanticus (Tundra Swan) · C. columbianus bewickii (Tundra Swan (Bewick's)) · C. columbianus columbianus (Tundra Swan (Whistling)) · C. cygnus (Common Whooper) · C. cygnus buccinator (Trumpeter Swan) · C. melancoryphus (Black-Necked Swan) · C. melanocorypha (Black-Necked Swan) · C. olor (Mute Swan) · C. olor C. immutabilis (Mute Swan)

More Info

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Further Reading

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Data Sources

Accessed through GBIF Data Portal November 26, 2007:



  1. New Mexico Wildlife. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Version of April 24, 2009. [back]
  2. Standard Deviation = 447.300 based on 4,146 observations. Altitude information for each observation from British Oceanographic Data Centre. [back]
  3. BirdLife International 2009. Cygnus columbianus. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. <>. Downloaded on 31 January 2012. [back]
Last Revised: 2015-02-06