Background Switcher (Hidden)

Trumpeter Swans in Ohio

Thursday, February 9, 2012

SWANS! Wild swans! But not just any wild swans--these are trumpeter swans!

Y'all know how I love hayrolls. There are plenty of them at The Wilds.

But there's something else there besides hayrolls. For one thing, there are northern harriers coursing low over the meadows.

There are expressive sweeps of brush and field, with hayrolls for punctuation.

And there are trumpeter swans at The Wilds.

I did not know that the trumpeter swan is the largest waterfowl species in the world. Heaviest and largest. Wow! Seventy-two inches long, weighing up to 30 pounds, with a eight-foot wingspan?!? Holy cow.

It will probably not surprise you to know that by the early 20th century the trumpeter swan was all but extinct throughout its North American range. A bird that big, with fabulous down feathers for clothing, and edible too--well, reason enough to wipe it out. You know those white muffs that stylish ladies warmed their hands in? Trumpeter swan skins. Yuck. Quill pens? Made from the wing feathers of trumpeter swans. A high use for a vanishing bird. By 1900, they persisted only in Alaska and very remote parts of the western US.  Where we couldn't get to them, basically.

Captive breeding efforts began in the early 1900's, with limited success. In 1982 the Toronto Zoo figured out how to captive-raise trumpeter swans, releasing over 180 into the wild, and many other institutions have followed their lead. Ohio got in the act in 1996. 150 birds were released at Magee Marsh, that mecca for warbler lovers on Lake Erie. Zoos and aviculturists contributed young swans to a swan conservation program at The Wilds, and these birds were augmented with eggs from wild nests in Alaska. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo hatched the eggs and kept the cygnets until they were three months old, and then they were sent to The Wilds in groups of 10-15.

Release sites are carefully selected for quality and forage.

 The Wilds has a bunch of swans still hanging around. What I really love is seeing birds without big colored plastic neckbands. I'm guessing that they're the offspring of captive-reared birds. In Ohio, trumpeter swans can be seen at Magee Marsh in Ottawa Co., Mallard Club in Lucas Co., Pickerel Creek in Sandusky Co., Mosquito Creek and Grand River in Trumbull Co., Killbuck Marsh in Wayne CO, and Killdeer Plains in Wyandot Co.  Cedar Point NWR also has released trumpeters.

These birds tend not to migrate, but to travel around just enough to find open water and something to eat (submerged aquatic vegetation, mostly).

We were incredibly lucky to find the water still open at The Wilds on this Sunday, January 14. By the next morning, all the ponds would have frozen over, sending the swans elsewhere.

This sign always makes me smile and think of my dad, Dale Zickefoose. He always wanted to live in the country again (he was born and raised on a farm in Iowa.)

We were lucky enough to see some trumpeter swans take off from a distant lake.

I was mesmerized by their beauty. A 20-30 pound swan has to run over the water for a long time before it can become airborne.

Their great webbed feet leave splashtracks everywhere.

They also make quite a racket as they lift off.

Finally, they were airborne, their great clean wings slicing the air instead of slapping the water.

And as they flew against the snow-dusted hills, they simply vanished from sight.

Which we hope they will never do again in Ohio, or anywhere else. 
This is a thank-you to all those wildlife biologists and zoo personnel who have worked so hard to give us a sight like that. A thank-you to The Wilds for its big part in bringing this miraculous bird back to our skies and eyes. They're on Facebook, too. Aren't we all? (Yes, Mether, we are. Or at least I am).


Cool sighting of the Trumpeter Swans. Lovely photos.

Sweet captures of the swans! I've only seen them a handful of times and only once here in Pennsylvania.

Fab photos as ever. I volunteered at the Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetland centre here in the UK last year, and a pair of trumpeters we had out in the field were some of the most aggressive birds we had... woe betide the unfortunate volunteer who went into their pen to feed them! Don't know if it was a standard trumpeter thing or just these guys though...

We have the migrating tundra swans here in the Sacramento Valley right now. When the rice farmers had there fields flooded, we could go by rows of ponds, each as big as a field and separated only by a dike, and see 50 - several hundred in each pond. Twice, I've had a flock of about 50 fly in a giant V over my head.

But I've seen people patiently scoping each bird in the hopes of finding a trumpeter swan. I hope to be living at a National Wildlife refuge soon where I too, can hope to find them.

I grew up reading "The Trumpet of a Swan" by E. B. White. Saw my first trumpeter outside Jackson Hole, WY in 1985, and now they're just down the road at Killdeer. A childhood dream come true!

These birds are awe-inspiring and I love their brassy honks. They almost look too big to be birds, if that makes sense. I was privileged to see hundreds in the Skagit Valley of Washington last month.

I drive Rt. 33 Columbus to Athens and back every Thursday and saw a pair in a roadside pond (probably a former borrow pit) a week ago today. Almost drove off the road! They are beautiful.

Poor cows can't get a square meal.

Never seen trumpeters outsdie a zoo, but we do get tundra swans overwintering in NJ and they are huge (if not quite as huge as trumpeters). I've been impressed by the spectacle of such heavy birds flying on occasion when they flew over me and the dominant sound was the creaking of their flight feathers under all that load.

Just watched 2 trumpeter swans today at the Nimisila Reservoir near Akron, OH. Such an amazing thing to watch them run on water to take off!

[Back to Top]