Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter SwansThe trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) is a species of swan found in North America. The heaviest living bird native to North America, it is also the largest extant species of waterfowl with a wingspan that may exceed 10 ft (3.0 m). [38]

The trumpeter swan is the largest extant species of waterfowl. Adults usually measure 138–165 cm (4 ft 6 in–5 ft 5 in) long, though large males can exceed 180 cm (5 ft 11 in) in total length. The weight of adult birds is typically 7–13.6 kg (15–30 lb). Possibly due to seasonal variation based on food access and variability due to age, average weights in males have been reported to range from 10.9 to 12.7 kg (24 to 28 lb) and from 9.4 to 10.3 kg (21 to 23 lb) in females.[38]
It is one of the heaviest living birds or animals capable of flight. Alongside the mute swan (Cygnus olor), Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus) and Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), it is one of the handful to scale in excess of 10 kg (22 lb) between the sexes and one survey of wintering trumpeters found it averaged second only to the condor in mean mass. The trumpeter swan's wingspan ranges from 185 to 250 cm (6 ft 1 in to 8 ft 2 in), with the wing chord measuring 60–68 cm (24–27 in). The largest known male trumpeter attained a length of 183 cm (6 ft 0 in), a wingspan of 3.1 m (10 ft 2 in) and a weight of 17.2 kg (38 lb). It is the second heaviest wild waterfowl ever found, as one mute swan was found to weigh a massive 23 kg (51 lb), but it has been stated that was unclear whether this swan was still capable of flight due to its bulk. [38]
 
The adult trumpeter swan is all white in plumage. Like mute swans cygnets, the cygnets of the trumpeter swan have light grey plumage and pinkish legs, and gain their white plumage after about a year. As with a whooper swan, this species has upright posture and generally swims with a straight neck. The trumpeter swan has a large, wedge-shaped black bill that can, in some cases, be minimally lined with salmon-pink coloration around the mouth. The bill, measuring 10.5–12 cm (4.1–4.7 in), is up to twice the length of a Canada goose's (Branta canadensis) bill and is the largest of any waterfowl. The legs are gray-pink in color, though in some birds can appear yellowish gray to even black. The tarsus measures 10.5–12 cm (4.1–4.7 in).  [38]
 
The mute swan, introduced to North America, is scarcely smaller. However, it can easily be distinguished by its orange bill and different physical structure (particularly the neck, which is always curved down as opposed to straight in the trumpeter). The mute swan is often found year-around in developed areas near human habitation in North America, whereas trumpeters are usually only found in pristine wetlands with minimal human disturbance, especially while breeding. The tundra swan (C. columbianus) more closely resembles the trumpeter, but is significantly smaller. The neck of a male trumpeter may be twice as long as the neck of a tundra swan. The tundra swan can be further distinguished by its yellow lores. However, some trumpeter swans have yellow lores; many of these individuals appear to be leucistic and have paler legs than typical trumpeters. Distinguishing tundra and trumpeter swans from a distance (when size is harder to gauge) can be challenging without direct comparison but it is possible thanks to the trumpeter's obviously longer neck (the great length of which is apparent even when the swan is not standing or swimming upright) and larger, wedge-shaped bill as compared to the tundra swan. [38]
Trumpeter swans have similar calls to whooper swans and Bewick's swans. They are loud and somewhat musical creatures, with their cry sounding similar to a trumpet, which gave the bird its name. [38]
 
Their breeding habitat is large shallow ponds, undisturbed lakes, pristine wetlands and wide slow rivers, and marshes in northwestern and central North America, with the largest numbers of breeding pairs found in Alaska. They prefer nesting sites with enough space for them to have enough surface water for them to take off, as well as accessible
food, shallow, unpolluted water, and little or no human disturbance. Natural populations of these swans migrate to and from the Pacific coast and portions of the United States, flying in V-shaped flocks. Released populations are mostly non-migratory. [38]
 
​These birds feed while swimming, sometimes up-ending or dabbling to reach submerged food. The diet is almost entirely aquatic plants. They will eat both the leaves and stems of
submerged and emergent vegetation. They will also dig into muddy substrate underwater to extract roots and tubers. In winter, they may also eat grasses and grains in fields. They will often feed at night as well as by day. Feeding activity, and the birds' weights, often peaks in the spring as they prepare for the breeding season. The young feed on insects, small fish, fish eggs and small crustaceans along with plants initially, providing additional protein, changing to a vegetation-based diet over the first few months. [38]
Trumpeter swans often mate for life, and both parents participate in raising their young, but primarily the female incubates the eggs. Most pair bonds are formed when swans are 5 to 7 years old, although some pairs do not form until they are nearly 20 years old. "Divorces" have been known between birds, in which case the mates will be serially monogamous, with mates in differing breeding seasons. Occasionally, if his mate dies, a male trumpeter swan may not pair again for the rest of his life. Most egg laying occurs between late April and May. The female lays 3–12 eggs, with 4 to 6 being average, in a mound of plant material on a small island, a beaver or muskrat lodge, or a floating platform on a clump of emergent vegetation. The same location may be used for several years and both members of the pair help build the nest. The nest consists of a large, open bowl of grasses, sedges and various aquatic vegetation and have ranged in diameter from 1.2 to 3.6 m (3.9 to 11.8 ft), the latter after repeated uses. The eggs average 73 millimetres (2.9 in) wide, 113.5 millimetres (4.5 in) long, and weigh about 320 grams (11.3 oz). The eggs are quite possibly the largest of any flying bird alive today, in comparison they are about 20% larger in dimensions and mass than those of an Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), which attains similar average adult weights, and more than twice as heavy as those of kori bustards (Ardeotis kori). The incubation period is 32 to 37 days, handled mainly by the female, although occasionally by the male as well. The young are able to swim within two days and usually are capable of feeding themselves after, at most, two weeks. The fledging stage is reached at roughly 3 to 4 months. While nesting, trumpeter swans are territorial and harass other animals, including conspecifics, who enter the area of their nest. [38]
 
Adults go through a summer moult when they temporarily lose their flight feathers. The females become flightless shortly after the young hatch; the males go through this process about a month later when the females have completed their moult. [38]
 

Tundra Swan

Tundra SwanThe tundra swan (Cygnus columbianus) is a small Holarctic swan.[39]

C. columbianus is the smallest of the Holarctic swans, at 115–150 cm (45–59 in) in length, 168–211 cm (66–83 in) in wingspan and a weight range of 3.4–9.6 kg (7.5–21.2 lb). In adult birds, the plumage of both subspecies is entirely white, with black feet, and a bill that is mostly black, with a thin salmon-pink streak running along the mouthline and – depending on the subspecies – more or less yellow in the proximal part. The iris is dark brown. In birds living in waters that contains large amounts of iron ions (e.g. bog lakes), the head and neck plumage acquires a golden or rusty hue. Pens (females) are slightly smaller than cobs (males), but do not differ in appearance otherwise.[39]

Immatures of both subspecies are white mixed with some dull grey feathering, mainly on the head and upper neck, which are often entirely light grey; their first-summer plumage is quite white already, and in their second winter they moult into the adult plumage. Their bills are black with a large dirty-pink patch taking up most of the proximal half and often black nostrils, and their feet are dark grey with a pinkish hue. Downy young are silvery grey above and white below. [39]

Bewick's swans are the smaller subspecies. There is a slight size cline, with the eastern birds being slightly larger; good measurement data only exists for the western populations however. These weigh 3.4–7.8 kg (7.5–17.2 lb), 6.4 kg (14 lb) on average in males and 5.7 kg (13 lb) in females. They measure 115–140 cm (45–55 in) in overall length; each wing is 46.9–54.8 cm (18.5–21.6 in) long, on average 51.9 cm (20.4 in) in males and 50.4 cm (19.8 in) in females. The tarsus measures 9.2–11.6 cm (3.6–4.6 in) in length, the bill 8.2–10.2 cm (3.2–4.0 in), averaging 9.1 cm (3.6 in). Bewick's swan is similar in appearance to the parapatric whooper swan (C. cygnus), but is smaller, shorter-necked and has a more rounded head shape, with variable bill pattern, but always showing more black than yellow and having a blunt forward edge of the yellow base patch. Whooper swans have a bill that has more yellow than black and the forward edge of the yellow patch is usually pointed. The bill pattern for every individual Bewick's swan is unique, and scientists often make detailed drawings of each bill and assign names to the swans to assist with studying these birds. The eastern birds, apart from being larger, tend towards less yellow on the bill, perhaps indicating that gene flow across Beringia, while marginal, never entirely ceased. An apparent case of hybridization between a Bewick's and a vagrant whistling swan has been reported from eastern Siberia. [39]

Adult whistling swans (C. c. columbianus). Click to magnify for seeing variation in the yellow bill spots.

Adult whistling swan in flight. Seen from below, all "Arctic" swans look almost identical.

Whistling swans weigh 9.5–21 lb (4.3–9.5 kg) – 16 lb (7.3 kg) on average in males and 14 lb (6.4 kg) in females –, and measure 47–59 in (120–150 cm) in length. Each wing is 19.7–22.4 in (50–57 cm) long; the tarsus measures 3.7–4.5 in (9.4–11.4 cm) in length, and the bill is 3.6–4.2 in (9.1–10.7 cm) long. C. c. columbianus is distinguished from C. c. bewickii by its larger size and the mostly black bill, with just a small and usually hard to see yellow spot of variable size at the base. It is distinguished from the largely allopatric trumpeter swan (C. buccinator) of North America by that species' much larger size and particularly long bill, which is black all over except for the pink mouthline, which is stronger than in the whistling swan.[39]

Note that color variations with more or less yellow, or pink instead of yellow or black, are not exceptional, especially in Bewick's swans, which very rarely may even have yellowish feet. The small size and particularly the rather short neck, which make it look like a large white goose, are still distinguishing marks. [39]

Tundra swans have high-pitched honking calls and sound similar to a black goose (Branta). They are particularly vocal when foraging in flocks on their wintering grounds; any conspecific arriving or leaving will elicit a bout of loud excited calling from its fellows. Contrary to its common name, the ground calls of the whistling swan are not a whistle and neither notably different from that of Bewick's swan. The flight call of the latter is a low and soft ringing bark, bow-wow...; the whistling swan gives a markedly high-pitched trisyllabic bark like wow-wow-wow in flight. By contrast, the whooper and trumpeter swans' names accurately describe their calls—a deep hooting and a higher-pitched French horn-like honk, respectively. Flying birds of these species are shorter-necked and have a quicker wingbeat than their relatives, but they are often impossible to tell apart except by their calls.  [39]

​As their common name implies, the tundra swan breeds in the Arctic and subarctic tundra, where they inhabit shallow pools, lakes and rivers. These birds, unlike mute swans (C. olor) but like the other Arctic swans, are migratory birds. The winter habitat of both subspecies is grassland and marshland, 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. According to National Geographic, when migrating these birds can fly at altitudes of 8 km (5.0 mi) in V formation.  [39]

The tundra swans mate in the late spring, usually after they have returned to the nesting grounds; as usual for swans, they pair monogamously  until one partner dies. Should one partner die long before the other, the surviving bird often will not mate again for some years, or even for its entire life. The nesting season starts at the end of May. The pair build the large mound-shaped nest from plant material at an elevated site near open water, and defend a large territory around it. The pen (female) lays and incubates a clutch  of 2–7 (usually 3–5) eggs, watching for danger while sitting on the nest. The cob (male) keeps a steady lookout for potential predators heading towards his mate and offspring[citation needed].

When either of them spots a threat, they give a warning sound to let their partner know that danger is approaching. Sometimes the cob will use his wings to run faster and appear larger in order to scare away a predator[citation needed].  [39]

The time from laying to hatching is 29–30 days for Bewick's swan and 30–32 days for the whistling swan.

Since they nest in cold regions, tundra swan cygnets grow faster than those of swans breeding in warmer climates; those of the whistling swan take about 60–75 days to fledge—twice as fast as those of the mute swan for example— while those of Bewick's swan, about which little breeding data is known, may fledge a record 40–45 days after hatching already. The fledglings stay with their parents for the first winter migration. The family is sometimes even joined by their offspring from previous breeding seasons while on the wintering grounds; Tundra swans do not reach sexual maturity until 3 or 4 years of age.[39]

Whooper Swan

Whooper SwanThe whooper swan (Cygnus cygnus), pronounced hooper swan, is a large Northern Hemisphere swan[40]

The whooper swan is similar in appearance to the Bewick's swan. It is larger, however, at a length of 140–165 cm (55–65 in) and a wingspan of 205–275 cm (81–108 in). Weight typically is in the range of 7.4–14 kg (16–31 lb), with an average of 9.8–11.4 kg (22–25 lb) for males and 8.2–9.2 kg (18–20 lb) for females. The verified record mass was 15.5 kg
(34 lb) for a wintering male from Denmark. It is considered to be amongst the heaviest flying birds. Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 56.2–63.5 cm (22.1–25.0 in), the tarsus is 10.4–13 cm (4.1–5.1 in) and the bill is 9.2–11.6 cm (3.6–4.6 in). It has a more angular head shape and a more variable bill pattern that always shows more yellow than black (Bewick's swans have more black than yellow). [40]
 
Whooper swans require large areas of water to live in, especially when they are still growing, because their body weight cannot be supported by their legs for extended periods of time. The whooper swan spends much of its time swimming, straining the water for food, or eating plants that grow on the bottom. [40]
 
Whooper swans have a deep honking call and, despite their size, are powerful fliers. Whooper swans can migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles to their wintering sites in southern Europe and eastern Asia. They breed in subarctic Eurasia, further south than Bewicks in the taiga zone. They are rare breeders in northern Scotland, particularly in Orkney, and no more than five pairs have bred there in recent years; a handful of pairs have also bred in Ireland in recent years. This bird is an occasional vagrant to the Indian Subcontinent and western North America. Icelandic breeders overwinter in the United Kingdom and Ireland, especially in the wildfowl nature reserves of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. [40]
 
Whooper swans pair for life, and their cygnets stay with them all winter; they are sometimes joined by offspring from previous years. Their preferred breeding habitat is wetland, but semi-domesticated birds will build a nest anywhere close to water. Both the male and female help build the nest, and the male will stand guard over the nest while the female incubates. The female will usually lay 4–7 eggs (exceptionally 12). The cygnets hatch after about 36 days and have a grey or brown plumage. The cygnets can fly at an age of 120 to 150 days. [40]
 
When whooper swans prepare to go on a flight as a flock, they use a variety of signaling movements to communicate with each other. These movements include head bobs, head shakes, and wing flaps and influence whether the flock will take flight and if so, which individual will take the lead. Whooper swans that signaled with these movements in large groups were found to be able to convince their flock to follow them 61% of the time.
 
In comparison, swans that did not signal were only able to create a following 35% of the time. In most cases, the whooper swan in the flock that makes the most movements (head bobs) is also the swan that initiates the flight of the flock – this initiator swan can be either male or female, but is more likely to be a parent than a cygnet. Additionally, this signaling method may be a way for paired mates to stay together in flight. Observational evidence indicates that a swan whose mate is paying attention to and participates in its partner’s signalswill be more likely to follow through with the flight. Thus, if a whooper swan begins initiating flight signals, it will be less likely to actually carry through with the flight if its mate is not paying attention and is therefore less likely to join it. [40]
 
Very noisy; the calls are strident, similar to those of Bewick’s Swan but more resonant and lower-pitched on average: kloo-kloo-kloo in groups of three or four. [40]
 

References

Photo Credits - Article

  • Trumpeter Swan - Gary B - Flickr

  • Whooper Swan - JKohler - Flickr

  • Tundra Swan - Flickr

Photo Credits - Backdrop

  • Trumpeter Swan - Richard Probst - Flickr

  • Whooper Swan - JKohler - Flickr

  • Tundra Swan - Flickr

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