Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) were killed for food and skins, first by Native Americans and then by white men upon arrival on the continent. The plumage trade peaked in the early 1800s and swan populations were dramatically reduced by the mid-1800s. Loss of habitat for this wetland-dependent species resulted in further declines.
Trumpeter swan restoration and management programs that began in the mid-1900s in the U.S. and Canada gradually boosted trumpeter swan populations. In 1996, Ohio became one of a number of states involved in reintroduction plans to restore trumpeter swans to the Midwest.
The adult trumpeter has snow white plumage with a black bill and feet; a young bird, or cygnet, is a sooty gray color with pinkish colored bill and feet. The neck and head feathers of an adult may be stained a rusty color from feeding in water that contains iron. The bill of a trumpeter swan may also have a red border on the lower jaw that gives the bird the appearance of wearing lipstick.
The long neck of the trumpeter swan is an adaptation that allows the bird to access food inaccessible to other species of waterfowl. The trumpeter can uproot plants in four feet of water.
Swans often build a nest on top of muskrat lodges or in stands of emergent vegetation, such as bulrushes, cattails or sedges where the water is one to three feet deep. They frequently use the same nest structure from year to year.
Cygnets remain with their parents through the summer and migrate with them to wintering grounds in October or November. They migrate with their parents back to summer grounds in the spring, but are then chased away by the adults. They remain in sibling groups until they are about two years old and then they begin to seek their own mates.
Trumpeter swans are monogamous maters, meaning they pair up exclusively. Breeding activities peak in April, and the young hatch in June, after 33-37 days of incubating. Each clutch averages 5 eggs, but can have as many as 9. Females only lay one brood per year, and the young leave their parents after one year.
Habitat & Behavior
Trumpeter swans are year-round residents and prefer large marshes and lakes ranging in size from 40 to 150 acres. They like shallow wetlands one to three feet deep with a diverse mix of plenty of emergent and submergent vegetation and open water. The bulk of their diet consists of arrowhead, sage pondweed, wild celery tubers, and the stems and leaves of waterweed, pondweeds, water milfoil, white water buttercup, muskgrass, burreed, and duckreed. They feed occasionally on freshwater invertebrates, snails, worms, seeds, and grain. Adult swans primarily feed in shallow water using their long necks to reach their food, but can also tip-up like dabbling ducks to feed in water four feet deep.
Research & Surveys
Best Viewing Opportunities
- Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ottawa County
- Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Ottawa County
- Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Wyandot County
- County Road 252 area at Shenango Wildlife Area, Trumbull County
- Big Island Wildlife Area, Marion County
The state-threatened trumpeter swan is found in wetlands in northern, central, and southeastern Ohio. In 2021, the number of breeding pairs increased to 111 pairs, 68 of which were successful. The number of cygnets jumped to the highest number ever of 260. Ohio’s trumpeter swan population continues to show signs of a successful recovery, thanks to the Ohio Division of Wildlife and its partners’ work towards wetland habitat restoration and management, and control of invasive species such as the mute swan, purple loosestrife, Phragmites, and flowering rush. Additional survey details can be found in the Trumpeter Swan Population Status Report.
In the summers of 2020-21, twenty trumpeter swans were outfitted with collars embedded with GPS/GSM collars that upload swan locations through cellular technology. See a map of swan movements.