There are two types of native swans that can be found in our region:

1. Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus columbianus) are large, standing as tall as 4 feet, 8 inches and boast a 51⁄2 foot wingspan.  The adult Tundra Swan has pure white plumage, a jet-black bill and feet, a long neck, and powerful wings. Juvenile tundra swans have variably gray heads and upper necks.

Photo by Barbara Ann Ducey

Tundra Swans maintain tight family bonds. Mated adults stay loyal for life.  Adults protect and teach their offspring through the young swans’ first migration and winter.  The swans chatter among themselves while feeding, standing, and even roosting, further binding the swans together with their distinctive sounds and calls.

When feasting, Tundra Swans use a headstand known as dabbling, where they upend their jet-black feet in order to snorkel deep, probing with intention for roots, tubers, and seeds. They also thrive by grazing in harvested farmlands: the swans, along with cranes and geese, will walk about prodding the soggy stubble where rice seeds remain.

2. Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinators) are the longest and heaviest native birds in North America, stretching to a length of 6’and weighing over 25 pounds, nearly twice that of a Tundra Swan.  The adult Trumpeter Swan has snowy-white plumage accented by black bills, legs, and feet.  A small patch of black appears to connect the bill and eyes.  Due to their size, Trumpeter Swans require a large 100-meter “runway” of open water for take-off.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swans form mating bonds when they are 2-4 years old and typically mate for life.  During the nesting season, the male builds the nest and the pair take turns watching over the eggs, becoming territorial and aggressive when their nesting area is threatened.  

Trumpeter Swans eat aquatic plants and vegetation, which they can reach with their bills underwater. With their long necks, they are able to reach plants in deeper water.  When feeding, they tip themselves up like a dabbling duck to uproot aquatic plants.  They may also feed in agricultural fields, eating spilled or leftover grains and crops.

Trumpeter Swans sightings are rare in California but there have been occasional sightings during winter.

Where to Find Swans Locally

Locally, visitors can view swans within the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge complex, Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, or drive the small roads east of the Sutter Buttes.  Travelling further from our region, swans can also be seen in the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, Cosumnes River Preserve, and the Llano Seco Unit.  The landscapes to inspect will be large, shallow ponds, wetlands, or harvested rice fields that have been flooded.  In larger habitat areas, you may notice swans comingling with sandhill cranes, geese and ducks by the thousands.