How to distinguish tundra swans from trumpeters

Tundra swans risk their lives visiting the Silver Valley, as mining waste pollution kills some of them every year. (File)
Tundra swans risk their lives visiting the Silver Valley, as mining waste pollution kills some of them every year. (File)

WILDLIFE WATCHING — With spring migration in full tilt, it's difficult to overlook the large white swans mixing with other waterfowl in the region's lakes and wetlands. 

But it's easy to miss the dintinction between the trumpeter swans and the tundra swans.

This article in the Sibley Birds website has excellent charts and descriptions.

Meantime, area birding enthusiast Charles Swift has this explanation for birders new to the area.

A flock of swans this large locally is most certainly a group of northbound Tundra Swans although it's certainly possible that there could be a few Trumpeters mixed in. Their voices are similar enough to cause confusion although with experience they can be separated.
They are also confusing to separate visually particularly as the main differences are related to size and structure rather than plumage. However most Tundra Swans show a variable yellow spot on the upper part of their bills which is usually visible if the swans are seen well and close enough.
The bulk of the Trumpeter Swan population that winters in the lower 48 states (which is fairly small) are found well to our west (western WA) or east (eastern Idaho) however good numbers of Tundra Swans that winter in the western U.S. (many in the Klamath Basin and other parts of CA) pass through here on their way north and a variable number even winter locally on the large northern Idaho lakes.

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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog

Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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