Cygnus columbianus columbianus

Status:  Rare regular spring and fall migrant statewide. Locally uncommon regular 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 (see that species), Tundra Swans are wintering with Trumpeter Swan flocks in small numbers. Traditionally, Tundra Swans were rare Mar and Nov migrants in Nebraska.

Spring:  Feb 18, 18, 19 <<<>>>  Mar 26, 28, 28

One of the early dates above is of a migrating flock of 15 over Nemaha/Richardson Cos 18 Feb 2013.

Later dates are 3 Apr 2021 Lake Ogallala, Keith Co, 4 Apr 2017 Seward Co, and 19-28 Apr 2021 Platte Co (photo, eBird.org).

There are a few older records of later dates; it is likely that these were indeed of Tundra Swans, as Trumpeter Swans were rare on the Great Plains until the 1970s. These are: 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), 5 May 1947 Brown Co (Youngworth 1955), 7 May 1930, 1931, or 1932 (15) Sheridan Co (Rosche 1982).

Peak movement is in mid-Mar. 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), 15 over Nemaha Co 18 Feb 2013, and 15 in northwest Burt Co 5 Mar 2020.

Fall:   Nov 1, 2, 3 <<<>>> Nov 24, 25, 25

An earlier report is 29 Sep 1950 Columbus, Platte Co (UNSM ZM10989).

Later dates of presumed migrants are 30 Nov 2020 (4) Cherry Co, 2-6 Dec 2019 Dakota Co, and 3 Dec 2020 (2) Gavin’s Point Dam, Knox Co. Later dates are included in Winter, below.

WinterAlong with the large increase in numbers of Trumpeter Swans in recent years, this species, formerly only a rare spring and fall migrant in Mar and Nov, is increasingly found wintering in low numbers, mostly singles, with Trumpeter Swan flocks. Prior to winter 2013-2014 there were only 10 winter reports, notably two in Douglas Co 23 Dec 1998-7 Feb 1999 (Jorgensen 2001), 1 Jan 1938 Logan Co (Rapp 1950), up to three immatures below Keystone Dam, Lake Ogallala, Keith Co 14-15 Jan and 7-13 Feb 1998 (Brogie 1999), and 5 Feb-5 Mar 1972 Lancaster Co.

Beginning in winter 2013-2014, there were reports each winter, notably at Carter Lake, Douglas Co, where there were reports 2013-2014 through 2016-2017 in the period 3 Jan-26 Feb with a maximum of six birds. As of spring 2021, there are about 23 reports statewide 4 Dec-17 Feb; best count was up to seven 26 Dec 2014-1 Feb 2015 at Lake McConaughy, Keith 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.

Rapp, W.F. Jr. 1950. Twenty-five Year Summary of Bird Migration in Nebraska. NBR 18: 23-24.

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

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

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 28 May 2021