The patient is wrapped in a blanket and carried to the surgical table, where it is sedated and intubated. Dr. Renee Schott carefully probes the shotgun wounds under the wing with her gloved fingers and picks away dead tissue bit by bit. By the time the wound is packed with saline-soaked gauze and the surgery is done for the day, there is healthy pink flesh.
The badly wounded trumpeter swan was found in a pond near Waconia and delivered on May 20 to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville where Schott, 31, is a staff veterinarian.
The swan, a member of a protected “threatened” species, had three shotgun pellets in its body, and the wounds under its left wing were filled with maggots and severely infected. Two shoulder blades had been previously broken and healed.
“The wound is very, very bad, and so it doesn’t have a great prognosis,” Schott said. “We’re trying because of his attitude. He’s one of our feistiest swans.”
The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center treats about 50 trumpeter swans each year, most because of lead poisoning from eating fisherman-discarded lead sinkers at the bottom of a lake or pond. Occasionally, a bird will fly into power lines and suffer broken bones. Some are shot, with the perpetrators often claiming they were shooting at snow geese.
“It’s very difficult to confuse it with a goose,” Schott said. “There’s a giant size difference. For them to make that mistake I think is just ignorance and not a true mistake. I’m not sure why people would want [to shoot] trumpeter swans. But they’re loud. And they poop a lot.”
Trumpeter swans are no longer considered endangered. Still, it’s a misdemeanor to shoot one. In 2007, a man was charged with killing a trumpeter swan in Carver County. Last year, officials asked for the public’s help after two were killed.
To the rescue
If it weren’t for Nina Salveson’s rescue mission, the bird surely would have died a slow and painful death, Schott said.
Salveson and her husband live on 24 acres between Waconia and Victoria. She initially thought the swan was nesting. Three or four days later, she realized there was no nest and no mate. After calling the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Three Rivers Park District and the Wildlife Rehab Center for guidance, she approached it to get a closer look.
“I could tell the bird was weak,” she said. “It was evident the left wing was broken. It was so sweet. It let me get within a foot or two of it. I gave it Reiki. Every once in a while it would lift its neck and turn and look at me. It didn’t hiss at me. It just looked at me.”
An expert from Three Rivers and a father-son team who are seasoned experts on migratory birds helped Salveson get it to the center in Roseville.
“They’ve indicated the bird will never fly again and probably can’t be rereleased into the wild,” she said. “Hopefully, it will make a recovery so it can be released into a breeding sanctuary.”
Salveson said the bird being shot “made me very sad and really angry. Really, really angry. It’s callous, it’s heinous, it’s irresponsible. They’re just so beautiful.”
She said an official from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told her they will start an investigation, but unless she actually saw someone shoot the swan, it’s doubtful anyone can be charged. For now, she’s just grateful for the help of the swan’s rescuers and that the bird is recovering.
‘In intensive care’
The outlook is “guarded,” Schott said. Waterfowl carry a slow-growing fungus called aspergillosis, which causes pneumonia, and which under stress can multiply and kill a swan. Veterinarians at the center will do an endoscopy to see if the fungus has taken over in the bird’s body cavity. If so, it will be humanely killed.
If the bird recovers, it could go to a breeding sanctuary in Iowa or possibly be released back into the wild.
“We don’t know yet that it’s not releaseable,” said Phil Jenni, executive director of the center, which relies on donors for 100 percent of its funding. “It’s possible. In human terms, it’s definitely in intensive care right now.”