Water Birds: The Swans of Will County

Updated: Mar 13

Three different species of swans call Will County home at least for a little while each year. Swans are large white birds with long necks, short legs and webbed feet. Most swans mate for life, and that and their beauty has caused many cultures to associate them with love.

Mute swans are one of three swan species found in Will County. (Photo via Shutterstock)

A swan’s favorite foods are aquatic plants, but they will also eat small animals and insects. They are dabblers, so when they are eating on the water, they tip their bodies forward so you can only see their pointy white tails sticking out of the water. When flying, their necks stick straight out and they take shallow and rapid flaps with their wings.


Here is a little more information about each of the three kinds of swans we see in Will County.


Mute swans

Mute swans. (Photo courtesy of Pam Ridgley)

Mute swans are not native to the United States. Originally from Europe, they are the stars of the ballet “Swan Lake” and the story “The Ugly Duckling.” They have become year-round residents of our county. They are usually seen in pairs or family groups, and they look different from the native swan species because their beaks are bright orange with a little black skin toward their eyes.


Mute swans usually swim with their necks curved into an S, and sometimes with their wings are slightly raised. Despite their name, mute swans do make sound. It is just muffled compared to the sounds of other swans. Listen to the mute swan’s call.


Trumpeter swans

A trumpeter swan. (Photo by Chad Merda)

Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl in North America. They have a wingspan of up to 6 feet in length and weigh more than 25 pounds. They are so large, they need to run across the surface of the water to gain speed for takeoff. They need at least 100 yards, or a whole football field, to accomplish this.


These swans travel in pairs or family groups. Their beaks are completely black, and their necks are usually held straight. At one time, this bird was near extinction because it was overhunted for it feathers and meat. But conservationists worked hard to help this species recover, and the numbers have started increasing in the past 20 years. Listen to the trumpeter swans call.


Tundra swans

A tundra swan. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Tundra swans are the rarest to see in Will County. They stop by in the late fall on their way to their winter grounds. They return here briefly when they are migrating back to their summer breeding grounds on the northern coasts and islands of Alaska and Canada.


These birds are the smallest of the three swans. They have black feet and black beaks with a small yellow spot near their eyes. When we see these birds, they are traveling in flocks, so there are often many. Listen to their calls and the sounds of their flapping wings.


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