Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Tundra Swan - Cygnus columbianus
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General Comments The only common swan in eastern North America, the Tundra Swan (formerly named the Whistling Swan) has greatly increased as a winter resident in the state since about 1990. For many decades, there was no hunting season on swans, but the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission re-established a season on them in the late 1990's, allowing a maximum of 6,000 swans to be taken in a given winter (i.e., 6,000 permits, with only one swan allowed to be taken per hunter/permit). Tundra Swans roost on lakes, impoundments, and sounds; they forage in shallow water of lakes and sounds, and also in plowed fields and short grass areas. Despite it nesting in Arctic tundra regions, its migration to the Atlantic coastal areas occurs to our north, and then southward down the coast; it is quite scarce in the Piedmont and mountains, as well as in the inner portions of the Coastal Plain.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Locally abundant winter resident in the northeastern quarter of the province, south to Pea Island NWR, Mattamuskeet NWR, and Pungo refuge. Much less common southward near the coast; generally uncommon and local along the central coast, and rare near the southern coast. Away from the Tidewater area, it is rare to locally fairly common (at a few sites) south to Edgecombe and Beaufort; very rare farther southward. Most notable was a flock of 120 in eastern Bladen on 30 Jan 2020. Mainly late Oct to late Mar, though recorded in all months. Peak counts: 60,000 at Pungo refuge in Jan 1996; 38,798 on the Pettigrew SP CBC on 30 Dec 2015; 32,186 at Lake Mattamuskeet, on 29 Dec 2008. Peak count far inland: 7,000 in southeastern Edgecombe on 5 Feb 2023.

One individual of the Bewick's subspecies of Tundra Swan was seen and photographed in a field, with other Tundra Swans, near Conetoe (Edgecombe), 2-8 Feb 2019* [Chat 83:55 link]. Presumably the same bird was seen there on 23 Feb 2020 [Chat 84:58 link].

Piedmont Rare winter visitor; no regular wintering locales. Seen mainly on larger reservoirs; typically late Oct to late Feb, very rarely into Apr. Peak counts: 20 in Chatham on 12 Nov 1997; 19 at Jordan Lake on 12 Dec 1982.
Mountains Very rare winter to rare visitor; extreme dates are 8 Nov - 30 Mar. Peak counts: 12 in flight over Valle Crucis (Watauga), on 22 Dec 2012; 12 in flight over Stafford Gap (Madison), on 17 Dec 2022; 10 in Henderson, on 13 Nov 2004.
Finding Tips This species can often be seen by the thousands at places such as Pea Island, Bodie Island, Pungo Lake, Alligator River NWR, and especially Lake Mattamuskeet during the winter. The westernmost regular winter locales are around Tarboro and Princeville (Edgecombe), where hundreds to several thousand can be seen at a few borrow ponds along US 64 or in extensive fields north and south of this highway.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-08], LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-01]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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