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Whistling Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus or Olor columbianus)


North American counterpart of Bewick’s Swan with which it is now generally regarded as non-specific under the name Tundra Swan.

Description: The adults are small, shorter bodied and shorter necked than Trumpeter swan, and a rather shorter bill. The adults are completely white, although head and neck sometimes stained rusty. The bill and facial skin is all black with indistinct reddish gape and usually a small yellow spot or patch at base of bill. Juvenile: Overall greyish-brown a little darker on head and neck and lighter on under-parts flight feathers and tail. Bill pink, paler towards the base, with blackish cutting edge, nostril and tip, becoming blacker by first spring, legs and feet fleshy-grey. Becomes paler and whiter during latter part of first winter and first spring.

Field Identification:

Length 120-150cm (48-58in).

Males usually larger than females.

In Flight: Like other northern swans, a V formation. Black bill shared only by Trumpeter swan, but flight distinctions tricky.

Voice: Migrating flocks are very vocal with noisy greeting ceremonies as individuals join and leave the flock. Does not whistle, despite its name. Has a variety of honking and clanging calls, all higher in pitch than the Trumpeter, recalling Canada Goose, rather than bugling of cranes. A soft musical, ‘wow-wow-wow’.

Habits: Highly sociable in the breeding season. They arrive in the latter half of May to take up territory in coastal Tundra regions. Nest site close to water by banks of pools and lakes, sometimes on small islands. Migrating birds follow specific routes to and from breeding grounds using certain stop-over point en route; at Niagara Falls they sometimes become caught up in strong currents and are swept to their deaths over the falls before they can rise from the water. Their feeding action is quicker than the Trumpeter and more noisy and excitable in small parties.

Habitat: In winter they feed primarily in shallow water, but in recent years in some districts has taken to grazing in crop fields and winter cereals. Breeds in coastal tundra of Arctic North America, from coastal Alaska and islands eastwards over northern Canada to Baffin Island.

Population: Always more abundant than Trumpeter swan, population estimated at around 146,000 in 1972. Numbers vary according to breeding success. Some 60% of the population breed in Alaska, with greatest density around coastal western area; wintering numbers almost equally divided between the two major winter zones. Fairly well protected, although a limited hunting season has been permitted in certain states. Flightless birds are rounded up and are used for food and their down.

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