Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus

Tundra Swan Cygnus columbianus
Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus. Photo Credit Chris Sloan

The Tundra Swan is a true tundra-nesting species with a breeding range that stretches from northern Alaska across northern Canada.  While it is a rare migrant and winter resident across Tennessee, it is the most likely swan to be found in the state. T

he majority of the population winters in large flocks on the Pacific and mid-Atlantic coasts; in Tennessee,  Tundra Swans are usually found alone or in small family groups on lakes and ponds.

Description: This pure white swan has a long, straight neck, a rounded head, and black legs and bill.  The bill is slightly concave and sometimes there is a yellow spot in front of the eye.

Males and females look alike, with the male slightly larger. Immature birds (August - March) are dirty white overall; legs and bills start off pinkish gray and turn black over time.

Length: 52"
Wingspan: 66"
Weight: 14.4 lbs.

Voice: The call is a high-pitched yodel or barking. Distant flocks sound like baying hounds.

Similar Species:

  • Trumpeter Swans are extremely rare in Tennessee, and though much larger, are very difficult to distinguish from Tundra Swans. (See link below for more details.)
  • Mute Swans have a curved neck, and an orange bill. They were introduced from Europe, are uncommon in Tennessee, but generally occur on farm ponds rather than large bodies of water.

Habitat: In Tennessee, more likely found on smaller lakes and ponds, than on larger bodies of water.

Diet: Aquatic plants, seeds, tubers, grains, some mollusks and arthropods.

Nesting and reproduction: The Tundra Swan has never been known to nest in Tennessee.

Status in Tennessee: The Tundra Swan is a regular, but rare migrant and winter resident across the state, arriving by early November and departing by mid-March. It is illegal to hunt any species of swan in Tennessee.

Dynamic map of Tundra Swan eBird observations in Tennessee

Best places to see in Tennessee: Tundra Swans are rare throughout Tennessee. Lauderdale Waterfowl Refuge may be the best location in West Tennessee for winter Tundra Swans.

Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.

Fun Facts:

  • The Tundra Swan in North America was once thought to be a separate species from the swans in Eurasia and was called the Whistling Swan.
  • While the Tundra Swan is the most likely swan to be found in Tennessee, an active and quite successful reintroduction program for the Trumpeter Swan in the Great Lakes region will likely lead to more Tennessee observations in the future.
  • On the breeding grounds, the Tundra Swan sleeps almost always on land, but most often on water during the winter.
  • The oldest known Tundra Swan was 23 years 7 months old.


Limpert, R. J., and S. L. Earnst. 1994. Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus). The Birds of North America, No. 89 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.