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Trumpeter Swan: world’s largest waterfowl

From the Michigan Audubon Society

The Trumpeter Swan is the only native swan that breeds in Michigan. At four and a half feet tall, weighing upwards of 30 pounds with a wingspan exceeding seven feet, it is the world’s largest species of waterfowl. It is also a long-lived species commonly reaching a life expectancy of 20-30 years.

Although their life expectancy is good, the Trumpeter Swan is a Michigan threatened species due to challenges in its life history.  It was widely believed that by 1900 the species had become extinct. Trumpeter Swans were excessively hunted for their skin and long flight feathers.  Additionally, the boom of the Industrial Revolution and the consumption of wetland habitats caused a large decline in population numbers. Only a small population survived in remote parts of the Rocky Mountains and Alaska.

The Trumpeter Swan is the only swan native to Michigan. It is the largest species of waterfowl in the world. Photo by Corey Gildersleeve.

The Trumpeter Swan is the only swan native to Michigan. It is the largest species of waterfowl in the world. Photo by Corey Gildersleeve.

-OUT-TrumpeterSwan2-Winter(CG)In the 1980’s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) along with like-minded conservation groups started a swan reintroduction program as part of the North American Restoration Plan. The goal was to have three self-sustaining populations in Michigan of at least 200 swans by the year 2000. Many hours were spent rearing young cygnets until they reached two years of age; at that time they were released into the wild in hopes to rebuild the population. Michigan Audubon’s Phyllis Haehnle Memorial Sanctuary and Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary were a few of the original release sites for these magnificent birds.

The program was a success. In 2000, over 400 individual Trumpeter Swans were counted in Michigan. “One of the greatest successes in the reintroduction program was the availability of quality, natural nesting areas in Michigan,” says Peggy Ridgway, former Michigan Audubon President.

Today, Michigan has over 500 Trumpeter Swans; the numbers look promising but they are still a threatened species in Michigan. Population numbers are challenged by competition for breeding territory, loss of vegetation and invasive species, such as the Mute Swan.

Fortunately, there are three locations in Michigan that are well populated with Trumpeter Swans. Schoolcraft County/Seney National Wildlife Refuge in the Upper Peninsula is home to half of the Trumpeter Swan population in the state. The four-county region of Oscoda, Alcona, Ogemaw and Iosco counties in the Northern Lower Peninsula have great viewing numbers, according to Ridgway, “There are currently 130 plus Trumpeter Swans at the Westgate Overlook along the Au Sable River in Iosco County.” Additionally, several counties in southwest Michigan have also established good Trumpeter Swan populations. Trumpeter Swans are residents of several Michigan Audubon Bird Sanctuaries, including Baker, Haehnle, Otis Farm and Riverbank.

Barb Avers, MDNR, suggests a few ways to help increase Trumpeter Swan populations. “Join a wetland/waterfowl conservation organization, like Michigan Audubon, that helps fund conservation efforts, volunteer on a public wetland restoration project or if possible, restore wetlands on your property.”

You can also help by entering any Trumpeter Swan observations into www.ebird.org, where agency and non-profit conservation organizations like Michigan Audubon can access this information.

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