Trumpeter Swan,
Cygnus buccinator

Facts and Information

Trumpeter Swan, San Juan Island, Washington. The Trumpeter Swan is the largest native North American bird, based on weight and length, and is also the largest living waterfowl species on the entire planet, making them quite a sight on San Juan Island. Males, growing up to about 64", are larger than females, who grow up to about 59". Their average wingspan is 6.7 feet! Whoa! There have been record-sized males measuring 72" with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. That's big!

These birds are completely white, with long necks, black bills with faint salmon-pink coloring along the mouthline, and short black legs. Juveniles, called cygnets, are grey for their first year. They fly in V-formations during migration to and from the Pacific coast.

The birds feed almost entirely upon aquatic plants, turning their tails up into the air to reach submerged food. They add grasses and grains from fields to their diets in the winter when aquatic plants are less plentiful. Interesting, young Trumpeter Swans are not strictly vegetarian like their parents, but are fed on insects and small crustaceans along with plants for their first few months of life.

As large as they are, Trumpeter Swans are prey to certain predators, but for the most part, only when they are nesting and therefore at a slight disadvantage. The only predators capable of hunting adult or large cygnets are Golden Eagles, Bobcats, Red Foxes, and coyotes. Only the Golden Eagle and the Bobcat are likely to take an adult that is not nesting. Eggs are much easier prey, however, and can be taken by the Common Raven, the Common Raccoon, and the Northern River Otter. Most of the same predators will prey on young cygnets, as will Great Horned Owls.

These birds, like so many bird species, mate for life. While both parents share in raising the cygnets, only the female incubates the eggs. The young are able to swim within two days and can usually feed themselves after two weeks.

Trumpeter Swan, San Juan Island, Washington.In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Trumpeter Swans were hunted heavily, both as game and a source of feathers, and they were nearly exterminated by the mid-twentieth century. However, many thousands survived in the core areas of Canada and Alaska, and those populations have since recovered. Early efforts to reintroduce this bird into other parts of its original range, and to introduce it elsewhere, have had only modest success, as suitable habitats have dwindled and the released birds do not undertake migrations. More recently, populations have shown sustained growth over the past thirty-year period. The bird is listed as threatened in the state of Minnesota.

Jump over to any of the other San Juan Island bird pages: American Bald Eagle, Belted Kingfisher, Common Raven, Coopers Hawk, Great Blue Heron, Double Crested Cormorant, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Sea Hawk, Yellow Rumped Warbler, Great Horned Owl, Wild Turkey.

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