Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

[ Cygnus buccinator ]

Quick Facts

BODY LENGTH: 5 to 6 feet
HEIGHT: 4 feet
WINGSPAN: 7 or more feet
WILD DIET: aquatic vegetation and invertebrates
ZOO DIET: mixed greens and dog chow
DISTRIBUTION: northwest coast of North America, from Alaska to Washington, and the northern midwest region of the United States
HABITAT: ponds, lakes, and freshwater bodies
Giants of the Water

Big bird
Trumpeter swans are the biggest waterfowl in North America, and one of the largest in the world. Waterfowl are birds that are well adapted to life in the waterlike ducks, geese, and of course, swans.

Trumpeter swans have a wingspan well over seven feet from tip to tip. When they stand on the ground, their long necks make the birds stand more than four feet tall. Male swans weigh in at over 35 pounds. That makes them one of the heaviest flying birds anywhere.

Snow white and spectacular
Trumpeter swans are truly majestic birds. They are completely white except for a jet-black bill that dramatically contrasts with the snowy background of their feathers. Juvenile trumpeters are greyish and slightly darker on the head, with a black-trimmed pink beak.

Bugle boyand girl
Why “trumpeter?” These swans (both males and females) give off a loud and deep honking call that sounds like a bugle or trumpet. Sometimes they trumpet once, and sometimes twice. When two trumpeter swans greet each other they set off a great, loud display of honking and spreading their wingsit is quite a sight. All this noise is produced in the syrinx (or voice box)which is so long it coils around the swans’ breast bone.

Hunted for food and feathers
Trumpeter swans used to fly the skies all over the northern United States and Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. But settlers hunted these big birds and introduced them to the Europeon animal trade. The skins were used for ladies powder puffs. Swan feathers were prized as adornments for fashionable hats, and quills were made into pens. By the early 1930's, the majestic birds were thought to be nearly extinct.

Steps to save the swan
In the mid 1930s, the U.S and Canadian governments established wildlife refuges along the waterways of the trumpeters’ original range. By banning hunting and restricting livestock grazing, conservationists were able to protect both the birds and their habitats. The result was that trumpeter swans made a strong comeback by the 1960's.

Since then, it has been a roller coaster ride for trumpeter swan populations. There were harsh winters, with little food available. It became clear to scientists and people who managed the refuges that swans needed extra grain to make it through particularly severe winters until populations could rebound. The people have worked to provide extra food and protection for the birds, and now numbers are increasing again.

A very successful reintroduction program has been taking place in Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin. In fact, swans born at Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo were released into the wild in April 2006! There are currently between 12,000 and 16,000 wild trumpeter swans in North America.

Trumpeter swans at Brookfield Zoo
You can see a pair of beautiful trumpeter swans on the waters of Indian Lake at the east end of the zoo. Follow the path around the lake for the best viewing locations.

Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society