On snow-white wings, trumpeter swans are back

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Trumpeter Swans

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Published on: Dec. 21, 2011

KANSAS CITY Mo -- Trumpeter swans offer advantages for people who enjoy watching wildlife in winter. They’re big, beautiful, bright white and they will often frequent easily accessible lakes at public conservation areas or city parks.

The trumpeters, once considered almost extinct, are the largest native waterfowl species in North America with wing spans up to seven feet, long necks, snow white plumage on adults and graceful motions on the water.

Trumpeters are being reported at wetlands this winter in both northwest and west-central Missouri. They will stay as long as they have open water and access to aquatic vegetation to eat such as leaves, seeds and roots. Swans will also feed on grain on the ground in harvested fields. Where geese are flocked up on a lake in winter, swans often join them.

Adult trumpeter swans are habitual in frequenting nesting sites in northern states and wintering grounds to the south. Some bear identification collars with letters and numbers that biologists use to track populations and movement. It’s not unusual for the same swans to be sighted on the same lake each winter.

Young swans, called cygnets, have a gray tint to plumage and are usually with their parents. It is believed that they learn about nesting and wintering sites from the parents.

Earlier this winter, Conservation Agent Donald Tiller spotted trumpeter swans in Bates County with neck collars and identification numbers. Those swans are part of an effort to re-establish a trumpeter swan winter migration route between Iowa and Arkansas. Swans hatched in Iowa have been transported to release sites in Arkansas in hopes that during winter they would imprint on the area and then migrate back north in the spring.

Trumpeter swans were once fairly common in much of North America. But habitat destruction and unregulated market hunting in the 1800s destroyed most flocks in the Lower 48 states. In 1932, only 69 trumpeters were documented and they were in the Yellowstone Park area in the West. A refuge was established for them in that area in 1935.

Protections and restoration efforts have helped populations bounce back with trumpeter swans now nesting in northern states includes those north of Missouri. In winter, those birds migrate southward along with other waterfowl.

Swan sightings, including neck band information, can be reported to the Trumpeter Swan Society at http://www.trumpeterswansociety.org/csp-trumpeter-watch.html.

State voters created the Missouri Department of Conservation 75 years ago, in 1936, merely a year after a refuge was established to protect the few remaining trumpeter swans in the Lower 48. Today, the successful recovery of the majestic swans continues and wetlands and lakes at conservation areas in Missouri help by providing winter havens for the swans and places for wildlife watchers to enjoy them.

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