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Facts About Tundra Swans

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You might be used to seeing pure white tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) during the winter when they can be found in more southerly parts of North America. These large, striking birds spend their winters on the water and will even sleep whilst afloat. They're generally seen in flocks, except during breeding season.

Elegant and White

Tundra swans have rounded bodies, elongated necks and webbed feet. Adults have completely white coats -- although feathers on their necks may take on a rust hue due to ferrous minerals in marshy soils -- and black bills and legs. They're large birds who can weigh up to 23 pounds and have an average wingspan of around 5 1/2 feet.

Where They Live

As their name suggests, tundra swans do live in the tundra, although only during summer months. After breeding season is over, they migrate south for the winter. They generally overwinter along North America's Pacific and Atlantic coasts, from southern British Columbia to California on the West Coast and from New Jersey to South Carolina on the East Coast. As waterfowl, they live on or around pools, lakes, shallow estuaries, ponds and rivers.

What They Eat

Tundra swans are omnivorous creatures, so they consume both plants and meaty foods. They're known as dabblers, which means they tip themselves up and reach their heads down into the water to graze and forage for food. They normally pluck at tubers, roots and any aquatic plants they can find underwater. However, they'll also eat any mollusks and arthropods they can get their beaks on. They've also been known to eat grains from nearby agricultural land.

How They Reproduce

Once tundra swans have picked a mate it's believed that they'll stick with that partner for life. They even pair up a whole year before they first breed. Although they flock for the rest of the year, the pair goes off alone to mate, staking out and defending a territory of around three-quarters of a square mile. The pair builds a nest out of sticks and lined with moss and grass, if possible by a lake, stream or other body of water. After mating, females lays four or five eggs, which they incubate -- with help from the males -- for 32 days before hatching.