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Trumpeter Swan

Cygnus buccinator

Length: 60 to 72 inches Wingspan: 6 to 8.5 feet Seasonality: All Seasons
ID Keys: Very large all-black bill, white plumage, large size.  Compare to Tundra Swan.

Trumpeter Swan - Cygnus buccinatorThe Trumpeter Swan is the heaviest of all native North American birds.  They were hunted nearly to extinction during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but have slowly recovered since the 1940s.  Their recovery has been assisted by local re-introduction efforts, including in areas where birds haven't been seen in decades. They are often quite sensitive to human disturbance, although in recent decades, local populations have become accustomed to a human presence in parks and reservoirs.

In South Dakota, Trumpeter Swans nest in select locations in western South Dakota. In winter, many are sometimes concentrated in and around LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge.


Favors large shallow water bodies with abundant vegetation, including shallow lakes, ponds, and large rivers.  They will also use saltwater bays in the wintertime.


Primarily feeds on aquatic plants.  They may also feed on waste grain and terrestrial grasses, especially in the winter when other food sources aren't available.  Only very young cygnets eat insects and crustaceans.


Forages by swimming, taking food items from the water's surface, water's edge, or by tipping and extending the head down to grab food from underwater.  They will also forage on land.


April through July. The nest of a Trumpeter Swan is built on a protected spot surrounded by water, typically with relatively shallow water around the nest site. The most frequent nesting sites are old muskrat houses, beaver dams, small islands, or mounds of vegetation constructed by the birds themselves. The nests are often massive structures of up to 10 feet across, built of a mound of wetland vegetation in which the female forms a depression for the nesting site. Occasionally feathers or other material is used to sparsely line the inner bowl of the nest. The female lays between 4 and 10 eggs, and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after about 30-35 days. The youngsters leave the nest within a day of hatching and are fully capable of swimming and foraging for their own food, while the parents protect them from harm.

Trumpeter Swan pairs may mate for life, often forming a bond a year or two before they're even ready to begin breeding. The pair typically stays together in migration and on their wintering grounds as well, with the young of the year also often accompanying the parents that first winter. Trumpeter Swans are often faithful to a specific nest site and may return year after year, repairing damage from the previous year and adding new material if necessary.


Rich, resonating honking, typically of one or two notes.


Many populations in the lower 48 states are non-migratory.  Those in Canada and Alaska, however, do move southward as waters begin to freeze.

South Dakota "Hotspot":

LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge is the place to look for Trumpeter Swans in South Dakota. They could be present at LaCreek at any time of year, given open water is available. Early spring is a great time to look for them, the birds seem to often concentrate there before some dispersal to scattered nesting sites in the lakes and wetlands of the nearby Sandhills and in southwestern South Dakota.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Trumpeter Swan sightings

Similar Species:

There are two other swan species that could potentially be confused with a Trumpeter Swan, one that is native and is also sometimes found in South Dakota, and one that is introduced (with escapees or introduced birds occasionally seen in the state).

Tundra Swan - Cygnus columbianus Tundra Swan - Cygnus columbianus Mute Swan - Cygnus olor Mute Swan - Cygnus olor
Tundra Swan Tundra Swan Mute Swan Mute Swan

Conservation Status:

Trumpeter Swans once nested over much of North America, but were nearly wiped out in the Lower 48 by 1940.  Numbers have rebounded locally in many locations, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, and efforts are underway to reintroduce the species into many parts of their historic range. They are now found across a very broad geographic area, and their range and numbers continue to expand. The IUCN currently considers the Trumpeter Swan to be a species of Least Concern.

Further Information:

Photo Information:

August 10th, 2010 - Potter's Marsh south of Anchorage, Alaska -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Trumpeter Swan photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the range map for a higher-resolution view
Trumpeter Swan - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon summer resident and common winter resident in Bennett County.  Casual to rare elsewhere in the state.
Additional Trumpeter Swan Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos

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