All four species of swans found in North America have been spotted in Montana. They are the Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, Whooper Swan, and Mute Swan.
This guide will help you identify the types of swans spotted in Montana with pictures and identification guides and uses data collected from bird watchers on ebird to give real information about when these birds can be spotted.
Swans are large birds that are considered graceful and beautiful and are even depicted in children’s stories as such. They are usually white, but there are also black swans.
Male swans are called cobs and female swans are called pens.
Swans hold a special reverence and have done for centuries. They were once the preserve of royalty, and only the kings or queens could keep or hunt them and eat them. However, they are a protected wild species but now can be hunted with a special permit, but few ever do.
However, swans can be a nuisance, and the Mute Swan is an invasive species that is aggressive, especially at breeding times and is causing the destruction of habitats and forcing the native Trumpeter Swan to the brink of extinction.
If you enjoy spotting waterbirds in Montana, then you should also find out more about Ducks in Montana.
4 Species Of Swans In Montana
1. Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swans are spotted all year in Montana, mainly in the west of the state. They are recorded in up to 3% of summer and winter checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
The Trumpeter Swan has the distinction of being the longest and heaviest living bird native to North America. It is also recognized as the heaviest flying bird in the world.
- Cygnus buccinator
- Length: 58 – 72 in (147 – 183 cm)
- Weight: 401.6 oz (11381 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 102 in (183 – 259 cm)
Trumpeter Swans are entirely white except for their black bills, legs, and feet. There is a black patch on their face, seemingly connecting their eyes to their bills. Their heads and neck may occasionally show some rust-brown coloring because of their contact with iron elements in wetland soils.
Juvenile Trumpeter Swans are mostly dusky-gray, with a pink center on their black bills.
Trumpeter Swans breed in northwestern Canada and Alaska and migrate to the Pacific Northwest. Those that breed around the Great Lakes migrate to central inland US states.
You can find Trumpeter Swans in marshes, lakes, and rivers with dense vegetation. They breed in open areas near shallow waters. They are sometimes seen on agricultural fields, too.
In water, Trumpeter Swans usually 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, even going as far as tipping, like a dabbling duck, to get at their food.
With their large and powerful bills, they can uproot aquatic plants and feed on them. When they visit agricultural fields, they also eat spilled or leftover grains and crops.
Trumpeter Swans Call:
Nests of Trumpeter Swans are almost always surrounded by water or close to it. It is the male that builds the nest by throwing grasses, grass-like plants, and other submerged vegetation over his shoulder, slowly building mounds of this material until he reaches the nesting site.
They also nest in beaver or muskrat lodges. The female will then lay four to six eggs that she will incubate for about four weeks until they hatch.
Fun Fact: Trumpeter Swans generally mate for life. When nesting, there is always one adult that stays with the nest. They are both territorial and aggressive when it comes to protecting their nesting area.
2. Tundra Swan
Tundra Swans are usually spotted in Montana during winter, but their numbers increase during migration from March to April and October to November. They appear in up to 8% of checklists during migration.
Tundra Swans have entirely white bodies with long necks and black legs and feet. They also have a yellow patch near their eye, but it may not always be present.
Juvenile Whistling Tundra Swans are pale brown with white highlights and a mostly pink bill with a black tip and base.
- Cygnus columbianus
- Length: 487 – 58 in (119 – 147 cm)
- Weight: 370.37 oz (10496 g)
- Wingspan: 72 – 84 in (183 – 213 cm)
Tundra Swans breed in the Canadian Arctic and coastal Alaska. They migrate to the Pacific Northwest and sites inland. They also migrate for winter to the Great Lakes and the coastal mid-Atlantic.
You can find Tundra Swans, as their name suggests, on Arctic tundra. They mostly form flocks in wetlands, marshy lakes, ponds, estuaries, and bays. They also flock together in agricultural fields.
Tundra Swans mostly eat aquatic vegetation, which they forage for by sticking their head underwater. They also use their large webbed feet to dig around the bottom. They also eat grass and grass-like vegetation when on land. Crops, like potatoes and corn, are their diet when they’re on agricultural fields, especially after harvest time.
Tundra Swans Call:
Nests of Tundra Swans are usually built as mound-shaped nests near open water. They are built from plant materials available in the area. The female lays four to five eggs which she incubates for up to forty days until they hatch.
Fun Fact: The Tundra Swan used to be called “Whistling Swan” because of the sound their wings make in flight.
3. Whooper Swan
Whooper Swans are extremely rare in Montana but they have been spotted around Flathead in 2022.
The Whooper Swan (pronounced hooper swan) is also known as the Common Swan. Their bodies are entirely white. They have a bright yellow bill covering almost half of the bill and black at the tip.
- Cygnus cygnus
- Length: 60 in ( 152 cm)
- Weight: 329.6 oz (9341 g)
- Wingspan: 84 – 96 in (213 – 244 cm)
Whooper Swans are native to Eurasia and breed in cold northern regions and winter further south in wetlands. However, there are vagrants in the United States and Canada.
You can find Whooper Swans living together in flocks near wetlands, on flooded fields, lakes, and small ponds. When they graze on land, you will find them on farmlands close to the coast.
Whooper Swans forage mostly underwater. They submerge their heads and long necks in search of underwater plants. They use their large bills to pull out plants by their roots, eating all of them, including the stems.
Whooper Swans Call:
Nests of Whooper Swans are often located on islands and on lakeshores. They are built like large mounds out of plants, moss, reeds, grass, and lichens. The female lays four to six eggs and incubates them for thirty-five days. The male defends the nest during this time.
Cygnets, or young swans, are able to fly when they are four or five months old.
Fun Fact: Whooper Swans need to be near large areas of water when they’re growing up because their legs and feet are not able to support their large bodies for long periods of time.
4. Mute Swan
Mute Swans are introduced species in Montana and they are not often spotted in the state. However, they were spotted around Gibson Park in 2021.
Mute Swans are one of the largest and heaviest flying birds. They are non-native and were introduced to grace ornamental lakes and ponds but now have escaped into the wild and breed. They cause problems for native wildlife and can be aggressive.
They are entirely white, with long, graceful necks, orange bills with a large, black basal knob, black around the base of the bill, and black legs. Adults look alike, although males are larger than females.
Juveniles don’t have the orange-colored bills. Instead, they have dusky-pinkish bills. They may occasionally have dusky-brownish highlights on their body.
- Cygnus olor
- Length: 56 – 62 in (142 – 157 cm)
- Weight: 416 oz (11789 g)
- Wingspan: 84 – 96 in (213 – 244 cm)
Mute Swans are native to Europe. However, there is now a breeding population predominantly in northeastern US states and southeastern Canada. They are non-native and do not migrate, and have also spread to other regions.
You can find numerous Mute Swans in city parks, protected bays, and lakes. You may also find them on shallow wetlands, rivers, and estuaries.
Mute Swans spend most of their time floating on water. They forage for underwater vegetation, and this is their staple diet when on water. They may also forage for food on land, feeding on grass and agricultural crops.
Mute Swans Call:
Nests of Mute Swans are built by both male and female swans. Since swans are monogamous, they tend to reuse these nests each year, repairing and restoring them as needed. Nests are often found on islands in the middle or edge of a lake.
They use plants and vegetation to create a mound in which the female lays four to eight eggs. Both parents take turns in incubating the eggs for about thirty-five to thirty-eight days.
Fun Fact: Adult swans are highly protective of their young and will aggressively defend them when they sense danger or threats. They will hiss as a warning and will immediately chase and attack the predator if the warning is ignored.