The tundra swans are a giant white bird with a long and elegant body. North American “Whistling” Tundras has a predominantly black bill, with a yellow spot near the eye; Eurasian “Bewick’s” has a more evenly split black-and-yellow bill.
Immatures dusky grey-brown with pink on the bill. Easily confused with the Whooper and Trumpeter Swans, where their ranges overlap; see the accounts of those species. Breeds in wetlands and tundra in the far north.
Winters in large flocks of fresh or saltwater. Forages in shallow, vegetated wetlands, reaching under the water for plants, and walking through the stubble of corn.
It gives loud, echoing bulges, even when in flight.
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Anseriformes
- Family: Anatidae
- Genus: Cygnus
- Species: C. columbianus
In adult birds the feathers of either subspecies are mostly white and black feet, with a bill mostly black, a thin salmon-rose smudge along with the mouthpiece, and – depending on the subspecies – more or less black.
Tundra is a holarctic swan of 115 – 150 cm in length, 168 – 211 cm in wingspan and a weight range of 3.4–9.6. The iris colour is black.
The head and neck feathers have gold or rusty hue in birds that live in waters which contain large quantities of iron ions ( e.g. bog lakes). The pens are slightly smaller than the males, but otherwise do not vary in appearance.
In the parapatric whooper swan, Bewick’s Swan is similar but is smaller, shorter-necked and has a rounded head with a variable bill pattern, but it is ever more black than yellow and has a sharp front of the yellow base patch.
Whooper swans have a bill that is yellower than black, and typically the front of the yellow patch is pointed.
Tundra swans have high-pitched noise and a black goose (Branta) related call. They are particularly vocal when they drill in flocks on their wintering grounds; any inconspicuous arrival or departure produces a loud, excited call from their peers.
Unlike its common name, the whistling Swan’s land calls are neither a whistle nor substantially different from the Bewick swan.
The latter’s flight call is a gentle and low ringing bark, arch-wow the whistling Swan gives a distinctly high trisyllabic bark in the air.
In comparison, the names of the whooper and the trumpeter Cygnes identify their calls correctly, a low hooting and a higher-pitched, horny French honk.
These species’ flying birds have a shorter-cock and stronger wingbeat than their relatives, but also can not be distinguished except with their calls.
They mainly diet in summer from watery vegetation – for example. Glyceria, Potamogeton pondweeds and marine eelgrass (Zostera) obtained by dipping into the water, or by consuming grass that grows in dry soil.
At other times of the year, residual grains and other crops like potatoes make up a significant part of their diet. Mainly by day, tundra swans drill.
They tend to be territorial in the breeding season and aggressive towards animals that pass by; they are very gregarious birds outside the breeding season.
There are few natural predators to healthy adult birds. Foxes in the Arctic can threaten breeding females. Adults will normally stand and defend, but sometimes the foxes succeed.
The Brown Bears apparently the key explanation for the nesting failure in both the Arctic National Food Refuge and the National Fauna Refuge in Izembek, are a further unexpectedly dangerous predator for tundra swans.
Other likely nest predators are red fox, and Brown bears, golden eagles, and rarely grey wolves could occasionally succeed in the capture and killing an adult Tundra Swan.
About 15% of the Adults die every year from different causes, with a wild average lifespan of 10 years. The oldest tundra swan recorded was 24 years of age.
Well, believed to be a life partner, these swans actually pair up to about a year before breeding.
While they assemble in large flocks in their winter grounds, they breed as solitary pairs scattered around the tundra. Each pair defends a territory of about three-fourths square miles.
The bird’s tundra nests are large stick shelters lined with moss and grass. Ideally, they are located in the vicinity of a pond or other water source. The females usually lay about four eggs and incubate them for 32 days while the males guard the nest.
Young chicks are shielded from colds and pests, including swarms of voracious Arctic mosquitoes. Tundra swans can be unpleasant when aroused, and birds may also be able to fend off predators such as foxes and jaegers.
Despite the diligent efforts of the Tundra Swan, the entire breeding season is subject to the whims of the Arctic climate. Early or late spring freezes may cause serious reproductive problems. But populations are stable, and birds are handled and hunted for sport in some areas.
Tundra swans mate in the late spring, usually after they have returned to the nesting grounds; as usual, swans pair monogamously until one partner dies. If one partner dies long before the other, the surviving bird will sometimes not mate again for a few years, or even for a lifetime.
The nesting season begins at the end of May. The pair builds a large mound-shaped nest of plant material at an elevated site near open water and protects a large area around it. The pen (female) lay and incubate the clutch of 2–7 (usually 3–5) eggs, watching for danger while sitting on the nest.
The cob (male) keeps a steady eye on potential predators heading towards his mate and offspring. When one of them sees a threat, they send a warning to let their partner know that the danger is approaching.
Often the cob uses its wings to fly faster and appear bigger in order to scare off the predator. The time from laying to hatching is 29–30 days for Bewick’s Swan and 30–32 days for the Swan.
Since they nest in cold regions, tundra swan swans develop faster than swans breeding in warmer climates; whistling swans take around 60–75 days to fledge — twice as fast as mute swans, for example — while those of Bewick’s Swan, which are known to have little breeding data, may already have a record 40–45 days after hatching. The young remain with their parents for the first winter migration.
The family is often accompanied by their offspring from previous breeding seasons when on the wintering grounds; Tundra swans are not sexually mature until 3 or 4 years of age.
The snowy white tundra swan breeds in the Arctic and migrates several miles to the North American Atlantic and Pacific coasts, bays and lakes for winter. Tundra swans grow faster than the swans in warmer climates.
Whistle swans take 60–75 days – twice as fast as mute cygnets for instance. While the swans of Bewick, which take little breeding time, can use 40–45 days after hatching. For the first winter migration, the young ones live with their parents.
Tundra swans achieve sexual maturity only when they are 3 or 4 years old.
Population and Habitat
The Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina are frequented by the East and California’s western populations usually winter.
These animals fly about 3,725 miles from faraway habitats and travel twice a year on a harrowing journey. Sub-species of tundra swans in Europe and Asia as well.
Tundra Cygnes is often confused with trumpeter cygnes, and the two species in appearance are also quite similar. You are distinguished most easily by your calls. Tundra swans the water and floats to sleep.
They are powerful and fast swimmers who take the air with a running beginning, clutching over the surface of the water with wings. The rhythmic blowing of the cygnes creates in-flight a sound once called “whistling swan.”
Those big birds are fed to aquatic plants, tubs and roots by dipping their heads. They also consume shellfish and increase the flavour of grains and maize from farms.