Outdoors Column: A Conservation Success Story

By the 1930’s, there were fewer than 70 trumpeter swans in the continental United States. There was fear the species would become extinct until a population was found in a remote area of Alaska. From that source and with the wild birds remaining, conservation efforts have turned the situation around. This morning, more trumpeter swans were resting and eating on our lake than existed in the world just a few years ago. My wife and I counted between 75 and 100 swans this morning,

This resurgence was made possible by a combination of public and private efforts. Nesting areas were protected, and wetlands were developed in their native ranges. Young birds were marked with neck bands containing large lettering so they could be tracked along their migration route. Most of the funding came from hunting license fees, taxes paid by sportsmen on guns and ammunition, and organizations such as Ducks Unlimited.

 

Approximately 25 years ago, my wife and I were contacted by the Department of Natural Resources asking if we would consider being foster parents to 4 young swans. At the time, we knew nothing about trumpeter swans, having only seen one in a zoo. We were told, all we had to do is make sure they were not harassed and had open water on which to live. In the fall, when the lake froze over, they would be old enough and strong enough to migrate. They should return each year on their migration route. We gladly accepted the challenge. There was little we had to do other than enjoy the sights and sound of the huge white birds. That fall, they flew south, spending the winter in Arkansas. At the time, sightings of the banded birds could be reported to a central location. They would in turn, notify me of what my foster swans were doing. The next spring, all four birds returned and spent a few days on their trip north. Over the years, our foster birds stopped by every spring and every fall. They found mates and nested in Northern Minnesota and Southern Canada. When we would see a swan, we would get the spotting scope, check for a neck band, and locate the number. It was exciting to see our fosters with wild, non-banded mates and having successfully raised their young.

 

 

For years, we would see the familiar swans. The numbers of swans migrating through would increase each year and eventually we no longer saw banded birds. Last year, at times, we would have as many as 50 swans spend a few days to a week with us. This year, there are twice as many. Each morning, we watch as they line up, face into the wind, bob their heads, trumpet for a while and fly off to a nearby corn field. As dusk draws near, they return in groups of five or ten or twenty. The huge white birds are a joy to watch and hear, especially when they swing by the house and we can hear the wind rushing over their powerful wings. If things keep up at this rate, in a few years, the surface of the lake will be solid with trumpeter swans. This is truly a conservation success story.