Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Trumpeter Swan - Cygnus buccinator
ANATIDAE Members:
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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 five recent accepted records (by the NC BRC), with four documented by photos. Several additional records came during the winter of 2016-17, including the first from the mountains.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G4
Coastal Plain Casual (but increasing) winter visitor, but only to the Pungo and Mattamuskeet refuge areas (so far). 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]. 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.
Piedmont One accepted record -- an immature was seen and photographed at Jordan Lake (Chatham) on 19 Dec 2013* [Chat 78:8-13 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.
Mountains One report, being reviewed by the NC BRC -- one seen and photographed on the French Broad River near Alexander (Buncombe), from 25 Dec 2016 - 27 Mar 2017 [Chat 81:41 link].
Finding Tips Your best (slim) hope 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 refuges where Tundra Swans are common.
1/2 *
Attribution LeGrand[2018-02-01], LeGrand[2017-08-22], LeGrand[2016-09-27]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

View NatureServe distribution maps for Cygnus buccinator