Species and Plant Community
Accounts for Identified Wildlife

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Birds - Waterfowl

TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)


The trumpeter swan is BLUE-listed because relatively few pairs are known to breed in B.C., and key wintering habitats are vulnerable to development and oil pollution. It has recovered in recent decades from what was thought to be near extinction in the early part of the 20th century. COSEWIC has designated this species as NOT AT RISK in Canada.


The trumpeter swan is the larger of B.C.'s two native swan species and is the largest bird in North America. It nests in remote northern freshwater wetlands, with emergent vegetation, that are free from disturbance. Nests are large heaps of vegetation placed well away from shore. Only one pair usually occupy a marsh because of intensive interspecific aggression towards other swans during the nesting season. Pairs usually mate for life. The breeding season extends from late May to mid-September. Family groups remain together throughout the fall migration and winter. Trumpeter swans return to nesting marshes year after year, but are sensitive to disturbance and will abandon nests and nesting marshes if harassed. In winter, trumpeter swans are gregarious and flocks of over 100 birds are regularly found at favoured wintering sites. They frequent agricultural fields, rivers, estuaries, mudflats, sloughs and shallow lakes.


Ecoprovinces: Ecosections

Biogeoclimatic units

Breeding range

This species is an uncommon and locally distributed breeding bird in northern B.C. Known breeding lakes are in extreme northern B.C., in the Peace River area and in the central part of the province. Although known sites are few, this swan likely breeds in scattered localities across the northern parts of the province. New nesting marshes are discovered each year.

Nonbreeding range

A few nonbreeders remain on the coast each summer.

Wintering and migration

During winter, this swan occurs mainly along the coast from the Queen Charlotte Islands and Prince Rupert to southern Vancouver Island and the Fraser River delta. Winter concentrations occur at Puntledge River estuary, Bute Inlet, Deep Bay, Nanaimo River estuary, Cowichan River estuary, Westham Island, Lulu Island, Brunswick Point, Bella Coola estuary and Central Saanich. Several hundred birds often overwinter at Lonesome Lake in Tweedsmuir Park, and up to 1000 winter in scattered large lakes in the central interior. A few overwinter on other open waters in the southern interior.

During migration, this swan can appear in small numbers throughout the province. Swans breeding in Alaska migrate through the interior, while birds nesting in the Peace Lowlands enter B.C. through Alberta, after leaving their wintering area in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

Habitat requirements

Broad ecosystem units

Structural stage

2: herb - on wetlands and lakes with emergent vegetation

Critical habitats and habitat features

Secluded wetlands surrounded by forest are critical for breeding. In winter, important habitats include agricultural lands (hayfields, grain crops, root crops) and estuaries on the coast, and open water at the outlets of large lakes and streams with warm springs in the interior.

Selected references

Boyd, W.S. 1994. Abundance patterns of Trumpeter and Tundra swans on the Fraser
River delta, B.C. In The abundance and distribution of estuarine birds in the Strait of Georgia, British Columbia. Butler, R.W. and K. Vermeer (eds.). Can. Wildl. Serv., Delta, B.C. Occas. Pap. No. 83. pp. 24-36.

McKelvey, R.W. 1986. The status of Trumpeter Swans in British Columbia and the
Yukon, summer 1985. Can. Wildl. Serv., Delta, B.C. TRS No. 8.

McKelvey, R.W. and C. Burton. 1983. A possible migration route for Trumpeter Swans
(Cygnus buccinator) in British Columbia. Can. Wildl. Serv., Delta, B.C. Prog. Note 138.

McKelvey, R.W. and J. Hawkings. 1990. The status of the Trumpeter Swans in British
Columbia and Yukon, summer 1990. Can. Wildl. Serv., Delta, B.C. TRS No. 115.

McKelvey, R.W. and N.A.M. Verbeek. 1988. Habitat use, behaviour and management of Trumpeter Swans, Cygnus buccinator, wintering at Comox, British Columbia. Can. Field-Nat. 102:434-441.

McKelvey, R.W., K.J. McCormick and L.J. Shandruk. 1988. The status of Trumpeter
Swans (Cygnus buccinator) in western Canada. Can. Field-Nat. 102:495-499.

McKelvey, R.W., R.G. Davies, and K. Morrisson. 1991. The status of Trumpeter
Swans Cygnus buccinator wintering on Vancouver Island. Wildfowl 1:84-87.

Smith, I.D. and D.A. Blood. 1972. Native swans wintering on Vancouver Island over the
period 1969-71. Can. Field-Nat. 86:213-216.

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