The Trumpeter Swan is the largest waterfowl species native to North America. Most trumpeters weigh 10 to 15 kilos, although some large males may exceed 18 kilos. The male is called a cob and the female is a pen. With a wingspan up to 2.5 meters, these beautiful white birds are incredible to watch. Standing on the ground, an adult Trumpeter can be as tall as 1.25 meters.
Trumpeters have broad, flat bills with fine, tooth-like serrations along the edges that strain water when the birds eat aquatic vegetation. Their long necks allow them to uproot plants in 1.5 meters of water. Trumpeters are often confused with the mute swan, but the mute swan has an orange beak and the trumpeters are almost completely black. The trumpeter swan has a deep resonating voice that can be heard for quite some distance and the mute swan is, well, mute and makes no sound other than a hiss.
Trumpeter swans, although protected from hunting throughout their range, are also sometimes mistaken for snow geese, which can be hunted. The snow goose, however, is significantly smaller, with a wingspan of only about 1 meter and with black wingtips. Trumpeter swans may form pair bonds as early as their second winter and some may nest for the first time at age three years. Most trumpeters, however, don’t nest until they are four to six years old. Trumpeter swans mate for life and may live for up to 30 years.
Nest building begins in mid-April and may take up to two weeks. The nests may reach a diameter of 2 meters or more. Beginning in late April to early May, the female lays one off-white large egg every other day until a clutch of up to 9 eggs is in the nest.
During the incubation period, which lasts about 34 days, the pen occasionally leaves the nest to feed, bathe, and preen her feathers. When the pen leaves the nest, she covers the eggs with nest material. The cob will stand guard on or near the nest to defend against predators while she is away.
The cygnets hatch in June and after a day or two, they take to the water to feed on insects and other aquatic invertebrates. By the time the cygnets are four to six weeks old, they are feeding on aquatic vegetation, using their bills to uproot plants as their parents do. They stay with their parents for the first year, after that the young will stay together for another before heading out on their own.