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Tundra SwanTundra Swan
Most birders see Tundra Swans during migration and winter when large flocks of hundreds to thousands migrate to a winter range in brackish and freshwater marshes along the East Coast from New Jersey through the Chesapeake Bay to coastal North Carolina, or on the Pacific Coast inland through the Central Valley of California locally to Utah. There they feed on aquatic plants such as wild celery, widgeon grass, bulrushes and pondweeds. A trend toward feeding on waste grains in agricultural fields has compensated for losses of natural marsh habitat.
Tundra Swan Range Map

During the breeding season, Tundra Swans become strongly territorial and scatter throughout the arctic tundra to nest sites near open water. Nesting season begins in late May while there is still snow on the ground. Nests consist of mosses, grasses, and leaves piled at the edge of a pond, occasionally floating in the water. The nest may be two feet high and six feet across. Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs, and care for the young. Clutches of from four to six eggs are typical. As the parents begin their annual molt and flightless period in July, the young join them on the water. Adults feed on water plants and algae and are able to reach three feet into the water, tipping in the manner of puddle ducks if necessary, while cygnets feed mostly on insects and other aquatic invertebrates. The rapidly growing immatures are able to fly at three months and stay with their parents through at least the first winter. Studies of European swans suggest that pair bonds are long-lasting and that family groups may stay together for up to three years.

In the fall, family groups join flocks to migrate. Western Alaska breeders move south along the Pacific Coast, and the rest of the population moves across interior Canada to the eastern winter range.

Description: Tundra Swans are the smallest of the North American swans. They are all white with black legs and feet. The bills are black with varying amounts of yellow at the base. Juveniles are grayish-brown, becoming paler and whiter through the first winter, and attaining adult plumage by the second winter. They have pink bills and grayish feet and legs.

Tundra Swans vary geographically, including the Eurasian race known as Bewick's Swan and the North American population formerly considered a separate species and known as Whistling Swan. Like the Whistling Swan, Bewick's Swan is smaller in size than other swans, but differs in typically showing much more yellow on the bill than the North American form. Bewick's has occurred as a vagrant in Alaska, Saskatchewan, Oregon and California. In North America the main identification problem is with Trumpeter Swan (Olor buccinator), which has a range partially overlapping that of the Tundra Swan.

Trumpeter Swans are larger-bodied, with longer and thicker bills. The bill of the Trumpeter Swan is all black with a narrow red cutting edge visible only at close range. North American Tundra Swans have slightly concave bills, normally showing a small yellow patch in front of the eye (although this is not always present) and no red cutting edge. The feathering on the face of the Trumpeter Swan extends into the bare skin at the base of the bill in a point, while on the Tundra Swan this border is a smoother curve. The Tundra Swan's eye is almost isolated from the bare facial skin above the bill by white feathers, while in Trumpeter Swans a broader band of bare skin connects the eye to the bill. Another subtle difference is the Tundra Swan's habit of holding its neck more vertically erect than the Trumpeter, which more often carries its neck curved back on its shoulders. The calls of the Trumpeter Swan are more resonant and crane-like than the goose-like calls of the Tundra Swan.


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