Wednesday, January 23: Both Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo will remain closed due to icy conditions on our pathways. Our staff is working hard to clear the paths and ensure a safe visit for guests when we re-open. Thank you for your understanding!

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Tundra Swan

Cygnus columbianus

Tundraswan Gallery

About the Tundra Swan

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Geographic Range:

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Class: Aves
Order: Anseriformes
Family: Anatidae
Genus: Cygnus
Species: columbianus

The tundra swan is a large, all-white migratory bird with a long, straight neck. During the breeding season, they forage mostly in water, using their long necks to reach as far as three feet below the water's surface. Tundra swans are agile swimmers and flyers and are able to take off into flight from land or water. They make loud, high-pitched cooing noises to communicate. They live in the wet Arctic tundra of Alaska and far northern Canada, earning the name "tundra" swan.

Tundra Swan Facts

Appearance:

The tundra swan is a large, all-white bird with a long, straight neck. They have black bills with a smudge of yellow at the base, and their legs and feet are also black. Young swans have darker gray feathers and a pink bill.

Size:

  • Males are slightly larger than females
  • Length: 3 - 5 feet 
  • Weight: 8 - 23 pounds
  • Wingspan: 5.5 feet

Reproduction:

These swans reach sexual maturity at 3 to 4 years of age. Breeding occurs in shallow pools, lakes and rivers in the arctic North American tundra beginning in late May to June. Both parents help build the nest, which is a large, low mound with a depression in the center. The nest is made of grasses and moss and lined with down. The female will lay three to five eggs and they will incubate for 30 to 35 days. During the incubation period, males guard the nests and alarm females of any sign of danger by making a high-pitched vocal sound.

Chicks are able to leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching and can feed and swim with the assistance of their parents. They first fly at two to three months, but stay with their parents at least through the first winter. 

Behavior:

Tundra swans are migratory birds. During the breeding season, they forage mostly in water, using their long necks to reach as far as three feet below the water's surface. During migration and in the winter, most of their feeding is on land in fields. They feed and travel in flocks and form long-term pair bonds. These swans make loud, high-pitched cooing notes. 

Their long necks and bills aid in their search for food by allowing them to reach as far as three feet below the water's surface. Tundra swans are agile both in the air and water. They are able to take off into flight from the water or the land. 

Diet:

Aquatic plants, tubers and roots. They will also eat grains and corn found in farmland areas, as well as shellfish and anthropods.

Habitat/Range:

Tundra swans breed and nest in the wet Arctic tundra of Alaska and far northern Canada and are generally found along coastlines. Throughout the winter months and during migration, they can be found in shallow lakes, slow-moving rivers, flooded fields, and estuaries along the west coast of the United States, Texas, New Mexico, and along the eastern seaboard.

Median Life Expectancy:

In the wild, up to 20 years.

Threats:

Lead poisoning by spent shot, fishing sinkers, and mine wastes deposited in sediments. Birds are also killed by diseases, including avian cholera. Oil and gas drilling in arctic breeding habitats and loss of wetlands at migratory stopover sites are also potential threats to tundra swans.

Fun Facts:

  • Tundra swans used to be called "whistling swans" because of the whistling sound emitted when wind flies through their wings. 
  • They sleep on land during the breeding season and on water during the winter season.
  • Males are called cobs, females are called pens, and the young are called cygnets.