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The success of the trumpeter swan

February 2, 2014
Nick Buseman - Grundy County Conservation Operation Supervisor , Reinbeck Courier

The trumpeter swan is one of three species of swans that frequent Iowa, and occasionally Grundy County. The three species of swans are the tundra swan, mute swan and lastly the trumpeter swan. The trumpeter swan is a native nesting species to Iowa. Prior to settlement, trumpeter swans nested throughout the state, and with the work of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources we are able to witness that again.

There were several reasons for the demise of the trumpeter swan, the draining of wetlands for agricultural purposes and unregulated hunting led the eradication of swans nesting in the state. During settlement market hunters over hunted the population, market hunters were harvesting these large birds for not only their meat but also their feathers. The feathers of the trumpeter swan became very popular in Chicago, New York and many other highly populated areas. It was even believed that pelts from Iowa swans ended up in Europe. Until 1998 the last nesting wild pair of swans occurred way back in 1883 on the Twin Lake Wildlife Area southwest of Belmond.

Trumpeter swans were first given nationwide protection in 1918 when the United States, Mexico and Canada signed the International Migratory Bird Treaty. By the early 1930's the nationwide swan count showed that only 69 existed in the continental United States. With all of the sightings coming from the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana.

Article Photos

Two adults and their three juvenile offspring at Grundy County Lake.

It wasn't until 1993 that the Iowa DNR developed a plan to restore trumpeter swans to the state. The goals of the DNR were to establish 15 wild nesting pairs back to the state by 2003, while also promoting wetlands for habitat and water quality.

Many of the swans used to start this project were obtained from zoos and other state swan projects. Also during this time they were establishing flightless breeder pairs at different sites. Many of these birds were injured by power lines, guy wires, or hunters. One example of this is at Pine Lake State Park. The design of these flightless projects is to play match maker and find a pair of birds to raise a brood of cygnets (young swans); which will be birds that will be able to fly and hopefully return to Iowa to nest in the future.

In 1998 a wild nesting pair hatched three cygnets in Dubuque County. This pair also hatched five cygnets in 1999 and 2000. The successful nest in 1998 was the first recorded nest in Iowa in 115 years. During 2000, 34 of the partnership pairs produced 118 young. Of the 118 cygnets 36 of them died from various mortality causes. Throughout the project the mortality rates are somewhat higher than they expected, but overall the project has been very successful in reestablishing trumpeter swans to Iowa.

Over the years the DNR with cooperation from county conservation boards and private land owners have succeeded in establishing nesting pairs in many locations in Iowa. Many of those locations are located in the prairie pothole region of Iowa. The prairie pothole region of Iowa is located in the north central part of the state. Overall the trumpeter swan restoration project has been a great success in providing the state with restored wetlands and bringing back the trumpeter swan.



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