Creature Feature – Trumpeter Swan

Cygnus buccinator

The Trumpeter swan is the largest of the world’s swans. After years of protection, the species is still confined to small areas in Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta, Wyoming, and Montana. They have also been reintroduced into Minnesota and Wisconsin. They prefer living in the shallow, sheltered freshwater of lakes, ponds & rivers, and eat a variety of marsh and aquatic freshwater plants.

Adult trumpeter swans have a snowy, all white plumage. Juvenile plumage on the trumpeter is gray in color. They have a neck that’s as long as their bodies, which is held out during flight and up erect while swimming. The wingspan is 8 feet in males and 6 feet in females. Body length is 56-62 inches in males, and 55-58 inches in females. Body weight varies between 21 and 38 pounds. The average is 28 pounds for males and 23 pounds for females. They can live more than 24 years.

Hunted extensively for feathers, meat, and sport, trumpeter swans became locally extinct in Minnesota in the late 1800’s. Reintroduction efforts began in 1966 when Hennepin Parks began breeding trumpeter swans. Today Minnesota is home to more than 2000 trumpeter swans. The Minnesota Zoo began working with the Minnesota DNR to reintroduce swans in 1980. The zoo acquired three pairs of swans and began breeding them to produce young that could be released into the wild. Young adult swans were released periodically beginning in 1986. By 2009 the Minnesota Zoo had raised and released 172 swans into the wild.

Interesting Facts:

  • Trumpeter swans have monocular vision. This means each eye is used independently for lateral views.
  • The word swan was formerly spelled swanne. The Indo-European roots mean “noise” or “to sound.” The Irish derivation means to make music or melody.
  • The trumpeter swan gets its name from its boisterous honk, which sounds like a trumpet or french horn.
  • Male swans are called cobs, and females are called pens. Their young are called cygnets.
  • Their nest mound may be up to 12 feet in diameter. That’s the size of the free-throw circle on a basketball court.
  • Although they are historically migratory birds, introduced birds tend to not migrate.

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