Tundra Swan  ( Cygne siffleur )      This species is of special interest to Timiskaming birders.    All sightings should be documented and reported.

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Cygnus columbianus

Description:    Tundra Swan adult
Photo Date:   April 24, 2009


Maybrook Road, Casey Township


Michael Werner

General Notes

The Tundra Swan used to be known as the Whistling Swan in North America.  In 1983 it was merged with the Eurasian swan formerly known as Bewick's Swan.  Both are now considered to be subspecies of the Tundra Swan.  Both nest on the arctic and sub-arctic tundra.  During the breeding season the Tundra Swan sleeps almost entirely on land, but in the winter it sleeps more often on water.  It is the most abundant of two native and one non-native species of swan in North America.

Although Trumpeter Swans are slightly larger than Tundra Swans, it is very difficult to tell the two species apart. At close range, a small yellow mark at the base of the bill can be seen on the Tundra Swan, but not on the Trumpeter Swan. Unlike the Mute Swan which normally bends its neck in a graceful curve, the Tundra Swan usually holds its neck straight up. The voice of the Tundra Swan is soft and melodious. The former name “whistling swan” referred to the sound made by the slow, powerful beating of the wings in flight, and not to the bird's vocalizations. The call is lower pitched than a whistle, often described as sounding like a blowing or tearing sound. 

Since being afforded complete protection from hunting by the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty, populations of North America’s Tundra Swan have increased to the point where a limited hunt by permit was begun on the western wintering population in 1962 and on the eastern wintering population in 1984.

The Tundra Swan breeds from Hudson's Bay west to Alaska and winters in the Chesapeake Bay marshes of the United States. The Tundra Swan typically stays in flocks except when on a breeding territory.  After a brief respite on the lower Great Lakes in southern Ontario, they generally complete the rest of their spring migration to their arctic breeding grounds without stopping, unless impeded by inclement weather.  They are often detected when passing over Timiskaming flying high overhead on bright, clear nights in the first half of May.

The principal factor limiting Tundra Swan populations is the adverse weather the swans often face on all parts of their range, but particularly on the breeding grounds. A late spring may prevent nesting; an early freeze-up may cause heavy casualties among the young. Consequently, the size of wintering populations may swing widely, with the number of young birds varying from less than 10 percent to more than 30 percent of the total.

Abundance: Occasional Earliest observed:  

Typical spring arrival:

Apr. 6

Typical fall arrival:

Oct. 14
Breeding Status: Migrant Latest observed:  

Typical spring departure:

May 10

Typical fall departure:

Nov. 4

Documented Observations



April 2, 1998.  Three observed flying over Mountain Chutes Camp by Barry Kinch.

April 8, 1999. One observed in Casey Township by Barry Kinch.

May 9, 2005. One observed and photographed at Hilliardton Marsh by Serge Gendron.

April 24, 2009. Seven birds observed and photographed in Casey Township by Michael Werner.