The trumpeter swan was on the brink of extinction 50 years ago. But restoration efforts in Ontario have helped the species make a comeback throughout Canada and the United States.
Bev Kingdon rattles off the names of trumpeter swans and their personalities as if describing her children. Pig Pen was named for her eating habits; 672 cleverly avoided tagging; 206 nearly died of lead poisoning but nursed himself back to health and then fought off his wife’s new mate to reclaim their relationship.
In the past 30 years, Kingdon has been part of a small coterie of volunteers who have helped restore trumpeter swans to Ontario, Canada. North America’s largest waterfowl, the trumpeter was nearly extinct in Canada and the lower 48 states for the better part of a century – brought down by the shotguns of Europeans.Now, these majestic birds are a success story.There are more than 1,000 trumpeters in Ontario that headed north last month, many to raise their next brood. Restoration projects have also been successful in the United States, in the upper Midwest states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio and Michigan, returning swans to at least some of the areas they inhabited before Europeans arrived in North America.
The natural population in Alaska, which became a key source for the restoration efforts, also remains strong, with more than 22,000 adults counted in the last aerial survey conducted in 2015.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, similar restoration efforts in Western states have struggled.
“It’s been a labour of love for a lot of people all across North America to help bring back the trumpeter swans,” says Margaret Smith, executive director of the Trumpeter Swan Society, which has supported restoration efforts for 50 years.
Now that conservation agencies’ efforts have led to a critical mass of animals in a number of states, the swans are spreading naturally. North Dakota, Indiana and New York, which don’t have restoration projects, have all reported nesting pairs. Trumpeter swans have also been sighted in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas.
“Folks get really excited about it,” Smith says. One swan got blown to Arkansas in a snowstorm in the early 1990s, and wintered in Heber Springs, north of Little Rock, she says. It returned the next year, and now Heber Springs promotes its winter swan population as a tourist attraction.
“These are all pioneering birds,” Smith says. “For us, it’s like watching history as it’s happening.”
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