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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Tundra Swan -- Cygnus columbianus
(formerly Whistling Swan and Bewick's Swan)


RANGE: Breeds from northwestern Alaska south to St. Lawrence Island and the Alaska Peninsula, and east near the Arctic Coast of Baffin Island, thence south around Hudson Bay to Churchill and the Belcher Islands. Winters mainly near coast from southern Alaska through British Columbia to Pacific states and northern Baja California (casual); also in southern Great Basin to northern New Mexico; and in mid-Atlantic states, rarely on Gulf Coast.

STATUS: The most common and widespread swan in North America.

HABITAT: Inhabits lakes, ponds, sluggish streams, and occasionally swamp bogs on open tundra while breeding; may be found along coastal estuaries when not breeding. During winter, primarily found on sizeable reservoirs; shallow, productive lakes of the interior; other sheltered freshwater habitats; or on coastal bays and estuaries.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Open water or wetlands on Arctic tundra.

NEST: Builds nests on the ground along water's edge, on hummocks in marshes or tidal meadows, or on low hills up to one-half mile from water; seems to prefer to nest on small islands in shallow tundra pools. Rarely nests on level stretches in marsh or meadow areas.

FOOD: Feeds by plunging head under water and uprooting aquatic vegetation, preferably in shallow water, and occasionally by tipping up in deeper water, or by grazing in fields. Most commonly eats aquatic plants, but also eats waste corn, soybeans, shoots of winter wheat, grasses, sedges, and thin-shelled mollusks.

REFERENCES: Bellrose 1976, Terres 1980, Tohish in Farrand 1983a, Verner and Boss 1980, USDA 1981.


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