Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) reach lengths of 60 inches, with wind spans of up to 95 inches. They weigh from 21 to 35 pounds, and can live up to 25 years. Nesting trumpeters can be found in western Montana, along the borders where Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska meet, and in central Minnesota and east central Wisconsin. They were once common throughout North America, but due to market hunting for down and feathers, plus subsistence hunting and egg collecting, they were presumed to be exterminated by the 1880's. In 1919 two nests were found in Yellowstone Park.
Minnesota swan restoration began in 1996 by the Hennepin County Parks commission. In 1982 the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources began a recovery program. By 1994 the project and released 215 swans, and there was an estimated free-flying flock of 250 birds in Minnesota.
Swans are bottom feeders, using their long necks to search for plants and tubers to eat from the bottoms of ponds, lakes and rivers. They begin nesting in mid-April, with nests as large as sex feet across, they often use muskrat or beaver hives as nesting platforms. They lay from 3 to 8 eggs, but have only a 30% hatching success ratio. Incubation lasts 33 days.
Newly hatched swans, called cygnets, may gain 20% of their body weight each day; they are fully feathered by 7-8 weeks, but are unable to fly until 15 weeks, they begin daily practice flights in mid-September. Cygnets are gray-colored for their first year.
The young swans remain with their parents throughout the winter. They are usually chased away from the parents during their second winter, but may stay with their siblings up to two years, thus most of the small groups seen flying consist of a mated pair, and their young of the past two years. During their second year young swans choose a mate on the wintering grounds; they remain mated to until one of them dies.
Young swans usually nest the first time between 3 and 6 years of age, on nests in remote areas, where they claim a territory of 3-6 acres; with a long expanse of open water, which they use to taxi before they take flight.
Lead poisoning from shotgun shell pellets, illegal hunting, power lines, predators and loss of habitat are the main threats to trumpeter swans.
The sizes of the three populations of trumpeter swans in North America were assessed in 2000. Methods for the survey were similar to those of previous surveys, which generally occurred at 5 year intervals beginning in 1968. Collectively, a total of 23,647 swans were counted, which is about 3,900 (20%) more than in 1995 and 20,000 (535%) more than in 1968. Each of the three populations grew to record high levels in 2000. The Pacific Coast Population (PCP) remains numerically largest at 17,551, which is 8% higher than its 1995 estimate. The Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) increased 46% since 1995 to 3,666 swans. The Interior Population (IP) increased more than 150% since 1995 and now numbers 2,430 individuals.
The Interior Population are the birds that nest in the Upper Midwest States and south central Canada. Up to 1,500 of these swans have been wintering on the Mississippi River in Monticello, Minnesota, where the hot water discharge from an NSP Power Plant keeps the river from freezing. These birds can be seen from November through February each year.
I will be offering Trumpeter Swan Viewing & Photography Tours, weekdays and weekends, beginning about mid-November, or as soon as the water up north freezes and the swans begin to winter in Monticello, throuugh early March. If you have never seen or heard these magnificent birds up close, in large numbers, this trip is a real treat, for the whole family. The birds offer great opportunities for photographers. I will also be offering tours to view and photograph migrating tundra swans where they stop off on the Mississipi River in southern Minnesota, and rest before continuing east to their wintering grounds on the Atlantic coast. Tours will run from mid-October through Thanksgiving, or as long as they stay here.
Log on to www.TRMichels.com and click on Natural History tours to view the numerous other trips we offer - including Rocky Mountain National park in mid-September for bugling elk, moose and bigborn sheep; and Custer State Park in the Black Hills, for bugling elk, American bison, pronghorn, mule deer, white-tailed deer, the rare black-footed ferret and other photography opportunties in early September. Contact me anytime for dates and rates. TRMichels@yahoo.com