Tundra vs. Trumpeter Swans – What’s the Difference?

Tundra and Trumpeter Swans are both beautiful white swans native to the shorelines of North America.

Both these Swans are large in size and white in color, so it gets a little tricky to tell them apart.

Tundra Swan and Trumpeter Swan both belong to the family of Anatidae.

The scientific name of Tundra Swan is Cygnus Columbianus, and Trumpeter Swan’s scientific name is Cygnus Buccinator.

Tundra Swan also had two subspecies, Bewick Swan and Whistling Swan.

Trumpeter Swan is the heaviest bird found in North America, and it is also the largest species of Waterfowl. Tundra Swan is the smallest amongst the Holarctic Swans.

Tundra Swan
Tundra Swan
Trumpeter Swan
Trumpeter Swan

Despite looking grossly similar at first glance, both these birds have subtle distinguishing factors.

Today we are going to discuss each of these physical and behavioral differences in detail.

Habitat and Distribution

Tundra Swans and Trumpeter Swan are both native to most parts of the Midwest.

Tundra Swans, as the name suggests, are found in the Arctic regions in the Summer.

In winters, like most migratory birds, they migrate to the marshlands and ponds near the coast.

Trumpeter Swans, on the other hand, migrate very little in winters. Their breeding habitats are small shallow open water bodies like marshes, ponds, and lakes.

Both the birds are seen flying and feeding during spring and fall as they migrate from one place to another.

Physical Appearance

It is not very difficult to tell apart Tundra Swans from Trumpeter Swan if they are kept side by side. It gets tricky when you have to identify them in isolation.

It is very easy to confuse a larger Trumpeter swan with a much smaller Tundra swan in isolation.

You need to be well aware of the differences in their size, markings, and posture to know whether it is a Trumpeter or a Tundra swan.

So let’s get right into looking at these subtle differences.


As mentioned earlier, Trumpeter swans are larger than Tundra swans.

An average adult Trumpeter swan measures around 138 to 165 cm. Males of Trumpeter swans can sometimes even measure up to 180cm.

The average length of an adult Tundra swan ranges from 115 to 150 cm.


An adult Tundra swan weighs around 3.4 to 9.6 kgs. Males on average weigh 6.4 kgs, while females on average weigh less than that.

An adult Trumpeter swan being much larger in size weighs more than Tundra swans.

On average, the weight of an adult Trumpeter swan ranges from 7 to 14 kgs.

This difference in size and weight accounts for Trumpeter swans to have slow movements while Tundra swans are comparatively faster and are more agile.


The average wingspan of an adult Tundra swan is around 210 cm, while Trumpeter swans have an average wingspan of 185 to 210 cm.

Despite having similar wingspans but different body weight and sizes, Trumpeter size has a smaller ratio o0f body to wingspan compared to Tundra swans.

However, this difference in ratio does not cause any hindrance in flying for Trumpeter swans. Trumpeter swans are one of the heaviest and largest swans that can fly.

Now that we have discussed the difference in their overall size and weight. Let’s look into the difference in the size, shape, and color of their bills.

Their bills can be the most important distinguishing factor as you view it from various angles.

Bill’s size

The length of the bill of trumpeter Swan measures up to 11 cm. Their bill is longer than that of Tundra’s Swan.

The bill of almost 11 cm makes it the largest bill size amongst all waterfowl species. The average bill size of Tundra’s swan is 4.2 cm.

Bill’s shape

When viewed from a side or profile view, there is not much difference in the shape of their bills.

It is only when you view the swans from top and front that you can appreciate these differences.

The point where the bill is attached to the face appears U in shape in Tundra swans while it is sharper and looks like a V in Trumpeter swans.

The areas between the eyes and the bill are called lore.

This area appears short and narrow in Tundra swans when viewed from the top but wider in Trumpeter swans.

Trumpeter swans also have darker skin around their bills, and this dark skin extends up to their eyes.

It appears as if the Trumpeter’s eyes are connected to the bill while Tundra’s eyes are set apart.

Bill color

The color of the bills is black in adults of both the Tundra and Trumpeter swans.

What helps in differentiating the bills of these two swans is the yellow spot found near the eyes of Tundra swans.

In some Tundra swans, this spot is large enough to be noticed from a great distance.

However, around 10% of Tundra swans do not have this spot, and their bills are solid black like those of Trumpeter swans.

It has also been noticed that a very small number of Trumpeter swans also have a pale spot similar to those of Tundra swans.

Hence, the shape of the bill is more important than color when differentiating the two swans.

The youngs of both the swans have pink to black bills. Once again, the color is of not much importance even in immature.

Most of these swans acquire their solid black bills like adults during the first year of life.

The dark skin that connects the bill to the eyes in Trumpeter swans is also present in their young.

This can help in distinguishing a young Tundra swan from a trumpeter swan.

The yellow spot in adults of Tundra swans also starts appearing as a dull whitish spot in youngs, which will be missing in the youngs of Trumpeter swans.

The shape of the head and neck

The shape of the head of the Trumpeter swan forms a slope that is continuous with the bill.

It almost goes in a straight line and then forms an abrupt curve near the crown. In comparison, the shape of Tundra’s head is much wider and rounder.

There is not much difference in the shape of their necks when both the birds are standing.

However, when these swans are looking for food, the base of the neck in Tundra curves a little higher than that of Trumpeter swan.

Shape and posture of the body

There is no stark difference in their posture or body shape. This is the main reason why they look the same from a distance.

In Trumpeter swans, the tail seems to extend a little more than the wingtips, while it is not the case in Tundra swan.

This is, however, such a small difference that it can hardly play any role in distinguishing the two species.


The plumage of adults of Tundra and Trumpeter swans is white with no patterns either.

The youngs of both are also pretty much indistinguishable after the first year of life.

You may have noticed rust-colored feathers around the neck and head region of some of these swans, but this can be present in either of the species.

The youngs of both the species vary from brown to gray, so that again is of very little help. However, the distribution of different shades on the plumage is of great importance in distinguishing them.

Even though the juveniles of both species are gray, Trumpeter swans are darker than Tundra swans.

In addition to this, the timing of molting is also an important factor in distinguishing.

Tundra swans start molting a large number of scapulars during the early juvenile periods, like early December.

By the end of January, most of them develop full scapulars.

In contrast, Trumpeter swans remain in their full juvenile period till the end of January and barely molt any scapulars.

Leg color

Adults of both species have black legs. It is only in juveniles that it plays a role in distinguishing.

The legs of juveniles of Trumpeters are pale yellow while those of Tundra’s are black only like the adults.


Tundra swans have a thinner neck than Trumpeter’s, and it narrows near the base of the head during flight.

In the case of trumpeters, they bend their neck near the base during flight.

Trumpeter swans have very broad wings. The tips of the wings are rounder. They make small and slow wingbeats when flying while Tundra’s flap at a faster rate when flying.

When trumpets are gliding, their wings form an arched while Tundras keep their wings straight and flat.


The call of trumpeter swans is like a gentle honk. This can be transcribed as “do-do-doo.”

The call of a Tundra swan is like a much higher-pitched squeal. This can also be described as the sound made by a french-horn.

The call on Tundra can be transcribed as “wow-wow-wow.”

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, now you will have no trouble differentiating trumpeter swan from Tundra swan.

Even though these differences are very subtle, you will still not be able to tell them apart from a distance.

However, now you will know what features to pay attention to to know which swan it is.

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