This winter I have received several reports from Missourians of trumpeter swan sightings. The birds migrate from more northern states as open water freezes, although some will remain in northern areas if warmer water is available. These largest of North American waterfowl seem to be more plentiful in our area this year. The species is not new to Missouri. As recently as the late 1800s, trumpeters nested regularly here, but they disappeared as nesters with loss of wetland habitat, market hunting and increasing development. The species was near extinction by the 1930s.
About four years ago we had a single nesting pair in North Missouri, but most of the birds that winter here still nest in more northern states or Canada. Iowa is the probable source for most of our winter swans as they are one of several states with a successful breeding and restoration program. Some birds, from restoration programs, may have colored bands around their necks. Reports of sightings of those birds can be made to the U.S. Geological Survey website.
Trumpeter swans are often found in family groups, with two bright white adults and several “dirty” white juveniles. The Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area, near the Mississippi River at St. Louis, can hold as many as 300 to 400 wintering swans. Swans were reported this year from Arkansas and from Missouri locations at the Lake of the Ozarks and sites in Phelps and Cole counties.
Other white swans that may be observed in Missouri include the tundra swan and the mute swan, a native of Europe that has been introduced into North America. Several characters are used to correctly identify the white swans. The Trumpeter Swan Society’s website provides identification tips. Similar to the bald eagle’s recovery, the majestic trumpeter swans are a species that more Missourians may observe in the coming years. Waterfowl hunters, in particular, should be aware of the potential for encountering these large, white, protected swans at wetland areas. Care should be taken not to confuse them with the much smaller snow geese.