Learn how to tell the difference between cygnets of Trumpeter, Tundra and Mute Swans

Photograph by Amanda Kerr

Juvenile Swan Identification

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a juvenile swan, known as a cygnet (pronounced "sig-net"), of Trumpeter and Tundra Swans. Both Trumpeter and Tundra juveniles are gray in their first fall and winter. However, Tundra Swan cygnets generally turn white by March of their first winter, while Trumpeter cygnets do not turn white until the summer of their second year.

Feathers and legs:

Trumpeter juveniles are darker sooty gray, especially in the head and neck area. Their leg and foot color varies from pink to yellowish to dusky brown through their first year. Trumpeter juveniles usually remain darker gray longer than Tundra Swans.  Trumpeter juveniles have gray feathers on the head and neck persisting well into spring. Wintering Trumpeter juveniles may vary in age by up to 6 weeks due to geographic differences in hatching dates. As a result, they show considerable individual and geographic variation in the timing of their molt into white plumage during their second summer.

Tundra juveniles are brighter silvery gray with black legs and feet.  Their feathers begin turning white in late December. By mid-March they are nearly all white.

Bills:

Trumpeter bills are black at base and tip with a pink middle early on, turning black over their first year.

Tundra bill color is usually mottled pink with black tip, with less black at the base than Trumpeters.

Juvenile bill color in winter gradually shifts to all black in both Trumpeter and Tundra Swan species.

Mute swan cygnets have black bills, shifting to orange and black at maturity.

Someone described the difference between Trumpeter and Mute Swan cygnet bill coloration as "Nature's little joke."  Trumpeter Swan cygnets have mostly pink bills, turning to black.  Mute swan cygnets have black bills, turning to orange and black.

Trumpeter Swan cygnets through year one

Trumpeter Swan cygnets at hatch have pink bills with black/gray tips and base

Photograph by Kim Stevenson

Learn more about Trumpeter Swan family bonds and traditions


Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan cygnets at hatch on the tundra.
Photograph by Craig Ely

Explore the migration routes and range maps of Tundra Swans, Trumpeter Swans and other swan species


Mute Swan

Mute swan cygnets have black bills that will eventually turn orange at maturity

Mute Swan cygnets have black bills that will turn orange at maturity
Photograph by Cathy Kerr

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