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Do Swans Migrate? Types, Facts, & FAQ

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mute swan

Swans are fascinating, elegant, and one of the world’s largest waterfowl. They live in almost every part of the world and continent except Antarctica and, surprisingly, Africa. Despite their size, swans are excellent and strong fliers. If you’re unfamiliar with them, the fact that Swans can fly might lead you to ask a very common question: Do Swans migrate? Plus, if they do, when and where do swans go when they migrate?

Yes, some populations of Swans migrate, but some do not. Whether or not they migrate depends on where the swan population is located and several other factors. For example, what type of food do they have in their location, and what are the weather conditions? Warmer weather and adequate food will keep some swan populations in place year-round, while others will migrate to ensure they don’t freeze or starve. If you’d like to know more about the Swan’s habits, homes, and which swans migrate, read the abundance of facts and data we put together below!

magnifying glass 2 divider Which Swan Populations Migrate, and Where Do they Go?

In order to tell you about swan migration, we must first talk about the different species of Swan and where they’re located. There are seven primary swan species: Black, Black Neck, Coscoroba, Mute, Trumpeter, Tundra, and Whooper.

swan spreading its wings in the water
Photo Credit: Helmut Stirnweis, Pixabay

Black Swan (Cygnus atratus)

Black Swans are the only swans that call Australia home. They are considered a nomadic species, not migratory. Rather than migrate long distances, Black Swans move around the continent, going inland when the climate changes but not very far or for very long. They make a big circle, with those that live north making circles in the northern half of Australia and those in the south doing the same in their southern territory.

Black-Necked Swan (Cygnus melancoryphus)

This swan species lives in South America: mainly in Chile, the Falkland Islands, and Uruguay. They are a migratory species of swan and migrate to find better food sources. When they do, they move further south to southern Brazil and Paraguay. That’s between 1,900 to 2,500 miles (3,000 – 4000 kilometers), which is a significantly shorter distance than some of their northern cousins. Also, they migrate in winter, but since the seasons are opposite in South America, it’s summer in North America and Europe.

Black Necked Swan
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Coscoroba Swan (Coscoroba coscoroba)

Coscoroba Swans live in practically the same location and have the same migratory habits as their cousin, the Black-necked Swan. They spend their summers breeding in northern Argentina, southern Brazil, and Uruguay. Then, they head south to Argentina, Chile, and southern Paraguay when the weather gets colder.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

Although you can find a few small groups of Mute Swans in the United States, they are primarily found in Europe and, more specifically, the United Kingdom. Mute Swans don’t migrate. They are among the most territorial of the seven on our list and don’t look kindly on intruders. They will move if food and climate conditions change, but not very far. The Mute Swans of North America were delivered in the late 1800s by European settlers.

Pair of mute swans in flight
Photo Credit: Cristina Ivan, Shutterstock

Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator)

If you’ve ever looked up from your home in North America and seen a large V-shaped flock of birds flying overhead, there’s a good chance you were seeing Trumpeter Swans fly by. Trumpeter Swans breed in the remote Alaskan and Canadian wilderness in summer. It gets too cold to remain in winter, forcing them to migrate south to the Northwest and central parts of the United States, including Washington, Montana, and Colorado.

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)

If you’re wondering which of the species migrates the furthest, it’s the Tundra Swan. They travel about 3,700 miles (6,000 kilometers) twice a year, flying from at or near the Arctic down to the Pacific Northwest, southern Canada, and the Alaska coast in winter. Their territory and the territory of the Trumpeter swan are very similar, as are their migratory habits.

Tundra Swan
Image Credit: Pixabay

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

The national bird of Finland, the Whooper Swan, is the 2nd of the two swan species in Europe. They can be found in almost every European country and several Asian countries also. Their breeding ground is more or less Eurasia, which is a huge expanse of territory.  Being extremely strong fliers (2nd after the Trumpeter Swan), Whooper Swans migrate down into eastern Asia and Southern Europe during summer to escape the cold and find better feeding areas. 

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Do Swans Come Back to the Same Place Every Year?

Not only do Swans come back to the same place, but they also come back to the same nest! This behavior is especially true if the pair successfully raised the chicks the season before. Also, since most species are territorial, once they have established a territory, it’s highly unlikely they will move unless their mate is killed or dies. Due to this territoriality, Swans will never use another bird’s nest. They will make a new one if their nest is destroyed due to flooding, fire, or other environmental changes.

Black Swan in flight
Image Credit: Blake Parry, Shutterstock

Why Do Swans Honk When They Fly?

Many people think they’re seeing Canadian Geese when swans fly overhead because both birds honk when they fly (and at other times also). When flying, Swans honk to communicate, stay in touch with family members and warn of danger. Since Swans mate for life, they fly together, often with their cygnets (baby Swans) in tow. Honking helps them keep track of their cygnets flying and on the ground. Cygnets, however, don’t honk. Interestingly, the Mute Swan makes one of the most distinctive noises when they fly: a low, hum-like throb that can carry for many miles under the right conditions.

How Fast and High Do Swans Fly?

The average Swan can fly between 18 to 30 miles per hour (30 to 50 kilometers per hour). However, Swans can reach upwards of 50 to 60 miles per hour with a good tailwind. That’s as fast as a car on the highway! Swans fly at 6,000 to 8,000 feet when they’re migrating, although that can change depending on the swan species and their habits. 

Bewick's Swan flying
Image By: Russ Jenkins, Shutterstock

Why Do Swans Fly in a “V” Formation?

One of the most interesting things about Swans (and Geese) is that they form the shape of a “V” when they fly together to migrate. With one Wwan at the head of the formation, the rest of the flock will have an easier time pushing through the air. When the leader, who can be a male or female, gets tired, they fall to the back of the formation, and another takes their place. That cycle continues until they reach their destination.

What Is a Group of Swans Called?

While most people refer to large groups of birds as a flock, a large group of Swans on the ground is called a bank. For example, “We saw a bank of Swans at the park today, and they were beautiful!” When Swans are flying, however, they are known as a wedge, thanks to their “V” formation when they fly. A group of flying Geese is called a skein.

magnifying glass 2 divider Final Thoughts

Some Swans migrate to escape the cold, feed, and breed. The Black-Necked and Black Swan, don’t migrate, but they move around their territory. Swans honk when flying, much the same as geese, and do it to communicate and warn of danger. 

Swans in North America and Europe fly south in winter. Swans in South America do the same, but since the seasons are different, they fly south during the North American and European summers. 

We hope you thoroughly enjoyed our information about swans, their migrating habits, and why they do (and don’t) migrate. The next time you see a group of birds overhead in a “V” formation and honking like mad, don’t assume it’s a skein of Geese because it’s just as likely to be a wedge of Swans!

Featured Image Credit: Couleur, Pixabay

About the Author Greg Iacono

Greg Iacono is a self-taught writer and former chiropractor who, ironically, retired early due to back problems. He now spends his time writing scintillating content on a wide variety of subjects. Greg is also a well-known video script writer known for his ability to take a complex subject and make it accessible for the layperson.