Cygnus columbianus columbianus

Status:  Rare regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Locally uncommon casual winter visitor statewide.

Documentation: Specimen: HMM 2822, 27 Oct 1917 Doniphan, Hall Co.

Taxonomy: There are two subspecies, columbianus and bewickii, the latter Eurasian in distribution. Nebraska birds are columbianus.

Changes since 2000: Along with the large increases in numbers of Trumpeter Swans wintering in Nebraska in recent years (Silcock and Jorgensen 2018), Tundra Swans are wintering with Trumpeter Swan flocks in small numbers. Traditionally, Tundra Swans were rare Mar and Nov migrants in Nebraska.

Spring:  Feb 25,25,27 <<<>>>  Apr 6,6,6

Earlier dates are of two at DeSoto NWR, Washington Co 21 Feb 2017 and five in Dakota Co 21 Feb 2017. Peak movement is in mid- to late March.  There are later dates 15 Apr 1975 Clay Co (Jorgensen 2004), 27 Apr-14 May 1952 Platte Co (Kinch 1968), 30 Apr-3 May 1936 Clay Co (Kinch 1968), 14 on 4 May 1933 Sheridan Co, 5 May 1947 Brown Co (Youngworth 1955), 7 May 1930, 1931, or 1932 Sheridan Co (Rosche 1982) and 15 May 1952 Boone Co. It is likely that these reports were indeed of Tundra Swans, as Trumpeter Swans were rare on the Great Plains until the 1970s. The traditional migration pathway of this species extends from the Atlantic Coast to High Arctic breeding grounds, generally coming no closer to Nebraska than Minnesota and northeast South Dakota.

  • High counts: 17 in Douglas Co 17 Mar 2002, 15 in Sheridan Co spring 1930, 1931, or 1932 (Rosche 1982), and 14 in Sheridan Co 4 May 1933.

Fall:   Oct 31, Nov 1,1 <<<>>> Dec 11,12,14

Most reports are in the period 8-30 Nov. There is an early documented record, 29 Sep 1950 Columbus, Platte Co (UNSM ZM10989), and another early report 21 Oct 1970 Lancaster Co. There are several later reports of stragglers 18 Dec- 7 Feb; presumably these departed on freeze-up. Latest of these are: up to seven at Lake Ogallala, Keith Co 26 Dec-1 Feb, three of which were the first record for the Lake McConaughy CBC, 3 Feb 2001 an adult at Lake Ogallala, and two  23 Dec 1998-7 Feb 1999 in Douglas Co (Jorgensen 2001).

WinterAlong with the large increase in numbers of Trumpeter Swans in recent years (Silcock and Jorgensen 2018), this species, formerly only a rare spring and fall migrant in Mar and Nov, is increasingly found wintering in low numbers, mostly singles, with Trumpeters; most reports are in Jan in the east. Carter Lake, Omaha has become a regular wintering site; beginning with a single juvenile there 3 Jan-26 Feb 2014, and up to six have wintered since, with occurrence dates 3 Jan-13 Mar. At DeSoto NWR, Washington Co, up to four were present 27 Jan-5 Feb 2017 and a single 25 Dec 2018. Branched Oak Lake, Lancaster Co, hosted a single wintering bird associating with five Trumpeter Swans 14-23 Jan 2017 and a single wintered with Trumpeter Swans in western Douglas Co 10 Jan-1 Mar 2018.

Elsewhere, wintering occurred in the North Platte, Lincoln Co area 20 Dec 2013-15 Feb 2014, there were up to three immatures below Keystone Dam, Lake Ogallala 14-15 Jan and 7 Feb 1998 (Brogie 1999) and another there 30 Dec 2018, and there is a report 5 Feb-5 Mar 1972 Lancaster Co.


CBC: Christmas Bird Count
HMM: Hastings Municipal Museum
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a Tundra Swan with Canada Geese at Carter Lake, Douglas Co, 30 Jan 2015 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Jorgensen, J.G. 2001. 1999 (Eleventh) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 69: 85-91.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012.  Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Kinch, C. 1968. Swans. NBR 36: 16-19.

Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska.  Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2018.  Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator), Version 1.0.  In Birds of Nebraska — Online, accessed 5 February 2018

, accessed 5 February 2018.

Youngworth, W. 1955. Some birds of the Quicourt Valley. NBR 23: 29-34.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2018.  Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online