The Trumpeter Swan is North America’s largest native waterfowl, reaching 6 feet in length with an 8-foot wingspan, and weighing more than 25 pounds. This majestic bird stands out on waterbodies with its snowy white feathers that contrast with its black bill, legs and feet. They are a common migrant in spring and fall throughout the state, and fairly common summer resident at some Sandhill lakes. In the winter, they can be observed along the Missouri and Platte Rivers and other water bodies east of the panhandle. Peak spring migration is in March and arrival of fall migrants typically does not begin until November.
Nearly driven to extinction in the early 20th century, Trumpeter Swan populations declined steadily beginning in the 1600s from habitat loss and over hunting for their meat, skin, and feathers, which adorned hats and made for popular writing quills. New conservation laws in the early 20th century and reintroduction and conservation strategies helped recover this endangered species across the country including in Nebraska. With the recovering populations across the country, this species was down-listed in 2018 to a Tier 2 at-risk-species in the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project. Trumpeter Swans are still vulnerable to habitat loss, lead poisoning, and other threats.
Where to observe
Viewing tips & etiquette
Trumpeter Swans are very sensitive to human disturbance at breeding locations, such as those in the Sandhills Ecoregion. Observe birds from a distance using a spotting scope and from inside a vehicle; do not approach birds as they may abandon nests and young if disturbed. Watch for these large white birds foraging in shallow open water or sitting on top of muskrat dens. Wintering swans can be observed foraging in croplands.