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All Three Swans in United States (Identification)

Tundra Swan

Four Swan species are found in the United States. One of the four, the Whooper Swan is sometimes found on the Aleutian Islands and is not covered in this section of the web site.


Tundra Swan

With its high arctic breeding range, the Tundra Swan undertakes long migrations in family groups which may travel by both day and night. Tundra Swan pairs maintain territories during the breeding season, and keep the same territories from one year to the next. Displays as well as chases are used to defend territories.

Young Tundra Swans remain with their parents during their first southward migration and first winter, but leave them at some point during spring migration. The oldest known wild Tundra Swan was over 21 years old.

The Tundra Swan is a large swan with all white plumage and a black bill. The black facial skin above its bill cuts straight across the forehead.

Juveniles are grayish. Generally paler than the Trumpeter. Juveniles have pinkish bill.  Becomes lighter lighter at end of first summer, and the bill darker.


Tundra Swan Tundra Swan Tundra Swan Tundra Swan

This swan is the “Bewick’s” race, rare in the U.S.  The Whooper Swan is similar but the bill and forehead from a smooth line.  The bill on this swan has a gentle curve and more black than the typical Whooper Swan.

Tundra Swan

Photograph © Mega Chan


Trumpeter Swan

The largest of North America’s native swans, the Trumpeter Swan at one time had a critically small population, although conservation and reintroduction efforts are proving successful. Trumpeter Swans hatching in Upper Midwest reintroduction programs often winter in south-central states.

Trumpeter Swans don’t typically breed until 4-7 years of age, but usually breed every year once they start. Collisions with power lines and fences are frequently reported, but Trumpeter Swans can be long-lived, with the oldest known wild bird living over 24 years.

The Trumpeter Swan is a large swan with all white plumage and a black bill. The black facial skin above its bill forms a V on its forehead.

Juveniles are grayish. Bills black at the base.  Darker than juvenile Tundra.

Trumpeter Swan

Photograph © Glenn Bartley

Trumpeter Swan in flight

Photograph © Glenn Bartley

Trumpeter Swans in flight

Photograph © Glenn Bartley

Trumpeter Swan close up of head

Photograph © Glenn Bartley


Mute Swan

Not native to North America, the Mute Swan has been introduced in various places and is most common on parts of the Atlantic Coast and the Great Lakes. Large and occasionally aggressive, Mute Swans can damage aquatic vegetation through overgrazing, and can displace native waterfowl species.

Predation on Mute Swans is usually restricted to eggs or recently hatched young, because the adults are too large for most predators. Mute Swans usually begin nesting at age two or three and they breed each year thereafter. The oldest known Mute Swan in North American lived over 26 years.

The Mute Swan is very large and all white with a reddish bill and a black knob at the base of the bill.

Sexes are similar.

Juveniles are mostly gray and have dark bills.

Mute Swan

Photograph © Glenn Bartley

Mute Swan

Photograph © Steve Wolfe

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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