The cold snap brought many migrating Canada geese into the area last week. Grundy County lake saw 500 plus geese resting on the ice and water during the day. In addition to all of these black and white visitors. There were five waterfowl visitors that really stuck out among the many black and white friends. The family consisted of two snow white adults and three gray immature cygnets. It was a family of trumpeter swans.
TRUMPETER SWANS (Cygnus buccinator) are the largest waterfowl. Adults are all white except for a black beak. They weigh up to 32 pounds and have powerful wings spanning 8 feet. They stood right out as they are much larger than any goose and sound different, too. They should not be mistaken for snow geese because they do not have the black wing tips that snow geese possess.
I snapped a few pictures of the swan family and then consulted Jim Dinsmore's book A Country So Full of Game. Prior to the settlement of Iowa, trumpeter swans nested throughout the state. However, wetland drainage, and unregulated hunting of trumpeters soon brought about their demise. Until 1998, the last wild nesting trumpeter occurred in 1883 in Hancock County southwest of Belmond.
Trumpeter Swan family resting at Grundy County lake.
Photo by Kevin Williams
Trumpeter swans were given national protected status in 1918 when the United States, Canada and Mexico signed the International Migratory Bird Treaty. At that time, only 69 trumpeters were found and all of them were in the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Montana.
Iowa began a captive rearing program and in 1998 had a successful hatch of three cygnets from a wild pair in Dubuque County. That same pair did well and produced five in 1999 and another five in 2000.
Iowa's reintroduction program continued with breeding adults coming from zoos, private propagators and other states. Flightless breeding pairs were located at sites all over Iowa including pairs in nearby Black Hawk and Marshall Counties. I mentioned that the breeding pairs were flightless but when the young cygnets hatched and grew to adult size each fall they would migrate south. These free flying cygnets would return to Iowa and become the wild swans that we have today. In 2000,for instance, 34 of the 50 rearing sites had a total of 118 cygnets hatch. And subsequent years were even better.
In 2010, researchers documented 42 swan nests from free flying birds. Captive swan nests are still adding new cygnets to the total but the success meant that the Trumpeter Swan program could be ended.
I will invite you to watch Grundy County lake and other areas for waterfowl right now. There could be swans among them. If they are there, you'll know it. You can't miss them!