Trumpeter Swan Captive Breeding Program

Annual Cycle of WWS Captive Breeding Program

The following is a brief description of how our captive breeding programs works.  Some of the information below is not consistent with typical wild nesting pairs.  Please see Trumpeter Swan natural history section for a comparison.  


  • Captive Breeding Pairs begin nest-building activities.   We supply nesting materials to ensure there is plenty for a proper nest.  Pairs form the nest themselves.
  • Female begins laying soon after nest is complete.  She will typically lay 1 egg every 1 to 1.5 days.  Clutch sizes range from approximately 4 to 9 eggs.  
  • Female starts incubating only after the clutch is complete.  Incubation lasts approximately 33 days.  It may take up to one week for the entire clutch to hatch. Cygnets may leave the nest for short periods just one day after hatching but will return often for the shelter and warmth of the female.


  • Cygnets will remain with the adults throughout the summer.  We briefly visit each location every day to feed the cygnets a diet of aquatic vegetation and artificial feed (cygnets do not become dependent of the artificial feed once released).  At approximately 100 days after hatching we capture the cygnets, clip one side of the flight feathers, and transport them to the wintering facility.  We remove the cygnets from the captive breeding pairs so that they can be with other birds to learn social behaviors and so that we can capture the entire flock in one effort the following year for release.

The following June

  • Swans produced from last spring are captured during the annual “Swan Roundup”.  WWS staff, State and Federal representatives, and volunteers use kayaks to carefully push the yearlings into a large holding pen.  One by one the yearlings are held by volunteers while the birds are fitted with individual ID bands and color markers.
  • The yearlings are immediately loaded for transport to the selected restoration locations and released.  Molting occurs while the yearlings spend the summer on wetlands full of aquatic vegetation.


  • By late August or early September the molted feathers have been replaced with new feathers and the birds are capable of flight.  Early flights are typically very short but it’s not long before the newly flighted birds are strong and confident enough to fly from one wetland to the next in preparation for migration. 










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