Trumpeter Swans at Riverlands

Photo: Kent Burgess

Trumpeter Swans at Riverlands

The Trumpeter Swan is one of our more common winter birds found in the sanctuary. Their large size and grace in flight make them a sanctuary favorite. They are the largest waterfowl in North America! The number of swans the sanctuary supports in the winter has earned the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary the destinction of a Globally Important Bird Area or IBA. The Trumpeter Swans are another one of our conservation success stories!

Physical Description

Males and females have identical plumage.

Adults: All white feathers with dark black bill and legs.

Juveniles: Greay feathers covering throughout with a mottled pink and black bill to all black bill.

Size: Wingspan: 7 feet

          Height: 4 feet

          Weight: 20-30 lbs. 


Trumpeter Swans need shallow bodies of water to roost and feed in. Wetlands, a diminishing resource, are where they spend their winters. They need shallow water so they can reach all the nutrient food sources at the bottom. During the daytime hours Trumpeter Swans forage in farm fields and return to the marshes, wetlands and shallow bodies of water to roost for the night.


Trumpeter Swans lay on average 4-6 eggs in late April. Their eggs are often incubated by their large webbed feet! Juvenile Trumpeter Swans are a sooty gray color for their first winter and fall. Juveniles don't reach full maturity until they are three or four. 

Trumpeter Swans mate for life and will often pair up when they are two, but will not breed until they are three, four or five years old. Pairs will build their nests near water on the ground. Swans will often use existing structures on or near the water like muskrat and beaver lodges or large groups of floating vegetation. Pairs will continue to return to the same nest year after year. Just like Bald Eagles, though, they are not tolerant of human disturbance and will abandon a nest (and eggs) if humans get too close.


Swans are pretty long-lived birds, they do not mate until they are about 3-4 years old. The oldest living wild swan lived to be about 25 years old. In captivity the oldest swan lived to be about 32 years old!


Trumpeter Swans were target by marketed hunters and for the millinery (hat) trade in the 1600s. By the 1800s they had been hunted almost to extinction. By the 1930s protection measures had been taken for the small remaing population residing outside of Yellowstone National Park. Before the Trumpeter Swan was put on the endangered species list, 2,000 swans were found in Northern Canada keeping them off the list. Through robust conservation and reintroduction efforts the Trumpeter Swan population has rebounded. Today over 1,000 Trumpeter Swans can be found wintering in the sanctuary!

Where and When to See Trumpeter Swans in Riverlands

The best place to see Trumpeter Swans in the sanctuary is at Heron Pond. Trumpeter Swans head to farm fields during the day to forage. The best time to see the swans on Heron Pond is in the morning before they go to the farm fields. On a cool day when there is a lot of ice on the river it's not uncommon to be able to see them from the center on Ellis Bay. The Trumpeter Swans typically show up towards the end of October and beginning of November. Their numbers peak in December and January, and they head back north around February and into March.

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