Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Trumpeter Swan - Cygnus buccinator
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General Comments This relatively rare swan of the northwestern United States and western Canada formerly nested as far east as James Bay, Minnesota, and Indiana, and formerly wintered along the mid-Atlantic coast, apparently south to NC. Populations of Trumpeter Swans have since been re-introduced into areas within this larger range, and a breeding population has been established for a few decades in the Great Lakes region. This species is mostly non-migratory or conducts only short migrations, unlike the Tundra Swan, which migrates several thousand miles. Not surprisingly, records of Trumpeter Swan are increasing in the eastern US, and most of these are presumed to be from the Great Lakes population. There is an historical report of Trumpeter Swan from the state (reported in Lee 2006); however, there are at least six recent accepted records (by the NC BRC), with five documented by photos. A good handful of additional records have followed, including the first from the mountains and the Piedmont provinces. Hardly a winter goes by now without at least one or two reports -- correct or not -- of Trumpeter Swans, as the species can be easily confused with the somewhat smaller Tundra Swan.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Now a very rare (but increasing) winter visitor, but primarily just to the Pungo and Mattamuskeet refuge areas, and seemingly just three records for well-birded Dare. Perhaps formerly (over 300 years ago) a regular winter resident. A group of four individuals was banded on 25 Feb 2004 at the Pungo unit of Pocosin Lakes NWR* [Chat 69:30 link]. One of the swans was photographed being hand-held in comparison with a Tundra Swan. These birds were seen again three days later (28 Feb). One was seen in flight, and heard calling, at this refuge on 7 Feb 2014 [Chat 78:59 link]; this report has not yet been reviewed. Additional records, each from this refuge, are an adult seen and photographed on 4 Jan 2015* [Chat 80:14 link]; an immature seen on 11 Jan 2015* [Chat 79:90 link] [Chat 80:13 link]; and up to three between 10 Dec 2016 - 11 Feb 2017. Two were seen on many dates at Mattamuskeet NWR from 20 Dec 2015 - 9 Jan 2016 [Chat 80:74-75 link]. Presumably a valid record is of a first-winter bird seen on Ocracoke Island (Hyde) from 5 Mar - 2 May 2018. One was photographed at Alligator River NWR (Dare) on 17 Nov 2018, to provide a first record for this well-worked county; it or another was photographed there on 23 Nov 2019. There were two additional records from the Lake Mattamuskeet area in winter 2018-19. In winter 2019-20, the only record was of one with a flock of Tundra Swans seen and heard calling on several dates from 1 Jan - 27 Feb 2020. In the winter of 2020-21, reports were of singles at Mattamuskeet NWR on 3 Dec 2020 and at Pea Island NWR on 5 Jan 2021. More recent records are one photographed at Alligator River NWR on 30 Jan 2023 and one seen and heard amid a flock of Tundra Swans in southeastern Edgecombe on 5 Feb 2023. There is one additional far inland record for the province -- one in a field near Conetoe (Edgecombe) from 4 Feb - 3 Mar 2019 [Chat 83:55 link]. Lee (2006) cites text from Lawson (1714) that indicates that Lawson was familiar with seeing two species of swans -- Trumpeter and Tundra -- in the NC and VA region that he explored. In fact, the Trumpeter occurred in considerable numbers, according to Lawson. However, no explicit locales are given, though there seems little doubt that it formerly occurred in at least eastern NC in winter. However, the NC BRC is not likely to vote on such a vague report. As of around 2018, enough state records had been accepted that the NC BRC is no longer reviewing coastal reports.
Piedmont Casual to very rare visitor in recent years. Two accepted records -- an immature was seen and photographed at Jordan Lake (Chatham) on 19 Dec 2013* [Chat 78:8-13 link]; and one or two birds were photographed at Jordan Lake on 26 Feb 2019* [Chat 83:55 link]. A group of 4 birds was seen and photographed at a very small pond in Nash in late winter 2009 [Chat 73:52 link], [Chat 74:4 link]; however, the NC BRC considered the record as being of Unaccepted Origin. Two photographed on Lake Betz (Wake) on 19 Apr 2018 can perhaps be considered as valid/wild, but they have not been reviewed. One was photographed at the lake at Hanging Rock SP (Stokes) from 22 Jan - late Feb 2024 [Chat 88:28 link]. Based on the number of state records as of 2024, the NC BRC might no longer be voting on records of this species, and thus this last report should be considered as valid.
Mountains One report -- one seen and photographed on the French Broad River near Alexander (Buncombe), from 25 Dec 2016 - 27 Mar 2017* [Chat 81:41 link], [Chat 82:56 link].
Finding Tips Your best hope to see a Trumpeter Swan is to search through large flocks of Tundra Swans, such as in the fields just west of Pungo and Phelps lakes, at Mattamuskeet NWR, and other sites where Tundra Swans are common.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-08], LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-01]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.