Sunday, December 12, 2010

Trumpeter Swan

The highlight of Erika and my trip to Prescott, Wisconsin, were about a dozen Trumpeter Swans asleep on the ice of the St. Croix River in nearby Minnesota.  We noted that most of the swans, and the other waterfowl, rested with their eyes open.
The Trumpeter Swan, our largest native North American waterfowl,  is a restoration success story.  Originally abundant from Illinois (and perhaps further east) to Alaska, by the end of the 1880s, this swan was near extinction.  Although adult birds were tough and tasted poorly, the swans were harvested for their feathers.  Habitat destruction also contributed to their demise. They were gone from Minnesota by 1880.  In 1935, only 69 individuals were censused in the Red Rock Lakes area of Montana, but flocks of unknown numbers also inhabited parts of Alaska and Canada. Due to conservation and restoration efforts, 34,803 wild individuals are now known, and numbers are increasing. 

Restoration in Minnesota began in the 1960s, with birds from Red Rock Lakes released near Minneapolis.  Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources actively collected eggs from both wild and zoo stock to propagate wild populations of swans.  The first releases occurred in 1987. By 2004, Minnesota populations exceeded 2000 individuals. See The Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project website published by the Minnesota DNR for more details and from which most of this data comes. Kim Eckert in A Birder's Guide to Minnesota, however, warns "this population may not yet be fully viable since it is still being augmented by introductions and is often locally reliant on hand-outs from humans." The species is of regular occurrence in Minnesota, with both migratory and resident populations. Active state restoration programs have also been successful in South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Ontario. 
Upon my approach, a few of the swans stood up, preened, and, like this bird, stretched before sitting back down on the ice to continue their nap.  Because Trumpeter Swans are so heavily managed, we were surprised this bird was unbanded.  In any case, a natural down coat and feet adapted not to lose heat must be good things to own during a Minnesota winter.

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