The coscoroba (its name refers to the sound of its call) is a waterbird of coastward parts of southern South America, with its range having extended over the past century as far north as Uruguay (Kear 2005). In general appearance, it resembles a small swan (and is often called the 'coscoroba swan'). The most obvious difference between a swan and a coscoroba is that the latter lacks a bare patch of skin between its eyes and its beak. Coscorobas also have a flatter, more 'duck-like' beak than swans. Another significant difference can be seen in their behaviour: swans and geese are characterised by what is called a 'triumph ceremony', where a male approaches his partner (swans form life-long pair bonds), raising and lowering his head while calling, and is answered by her in kind. This behaviour is particularly common after the male has seen off a potential rival (hence the name), and probably serves to maintain the pair bond. Coscorobas, it seems, are far too refined for such brazen posturing, and limit themselves to a little quiet murmuring of their eponymous call (Johnsgard 1965).
Because of its 'not-quite-swannish' nature, the coscoroba has often been seen as a link between swans and some other group of waterfowl, such as geese or whistling ducks. Molecular studies (e.g. Donne-Goussé et al. 2002) have placed it as sister to the Cape Barren goose Cereopsis novaehollandiae of Australia, with the two together sister to the swans. This does seem a little counter-intuitive, as superficially Cereopsis does not appear very coscoroba-like, but it is relatively well-supported. The purported similarities between the coscoroba and whistling ducks, on the other hand, are quite possibly plesiomorphies retained from the ancestral waterfowl.
Donne-Goussé, C., V. Laudet & C. Hänni. 2002. A molecular phylogeny of Anseriformes based on mitochondrial DNA analysis. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 23: 339-356.
Johnsgard, P. 1965. Handbook of Waterfowl Behavior. University of Nebraska: Lincoln.
Kear, J. 2005. Ducks, Geese and Swans. Oxford University Press.