February 9 , 2010

SUBJECT: Trumpeter Swan vs Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan

Recently Jo and I ventured to Manitoba, Canada to photograph Great Gray Owls and other boreal birds. (More on that soon to follow.) On our way there we stopped and visited the Trumpeter Swans in Monticello, Minnesota. I had visited these over-wintering Trumpeters a few years ago and it was nice to see them again.

Since we quite often see Trumpeter and Tundra (Whistling) Swans here in the Midwest U.S., the question often arises as to how to identify each species. If we had the luxury of seeing these birds side-by-side, there MIGHT be a few characteristics that are different:

  • The Trumpeter's neck/body length is usually greater than the Tundra.
  • The Trumpeter's feet are larger than a Tundra.
  • The Trumpeter's head/bill shape is slightly different (see below images).
  • The Trumpeter has no yellow on the lore...Tundra's sometimes have this trait.

Here's are a couple of head images comparing the two:

Trumpeter Swan head
The above photo is a Trumpeter Swan. The length of the bill is slightly longer and straighter than a Tundra Swan (below).
Tundra Swan Head

The above photo is a Tundra Swan. Notice the yellow patch on its lores? This isn't always visible in a Tundra Swan, but Trumpeters never have yellow on its lores.

Don't be fooled by the Tundra's discolored head. Their heads can be just as white or just as discolored. The discolorization is caused by searching for food in the mud.

Now at least for me, (with the knowledge comparing these two species) trying to identify these birds as they fly by is just about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack!

There is however, one very unique difference to these two species and a clue as to what makes these two so very different is in their name—a Trumpeter Swan trumpets and a Tundra Swan whistles. That is why Tundra Swans are also called a Whistling Swan.

Here is a short video/audio clip comparing the two birds. As you will hear, the differences in their vocalizations are substantial:

For more information regarding Trumpeter Swans in Monticello, Minnesota, please refer back to the journal entry from January 12, 2008.

—Alan Stankevitz




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All photographs © 2002-2007, Alan Stankevitz

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