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Trumpeter swans are majestic birds native to Iowa, but overhunting and habitat loss led to the last nesting pair being documented here in the 1880s. More than 100 years later, diligent conservation efforts started to bring them back. Today, Dave Hoffman, leader of the DNR’s trumpeter swan restoration program in Iowa, says the goal of a self-sustaining population will hopefully be realized in the next 10 years.
Big and Beautiful
Swans have been considered beautiful for centuries. Historically, their beauty seems to have contributed to their demise, as they were intensively harvested for their feathers and down. Trumpeters’ stark white feathers and black beaks stand out against the wetlands where they live, and because of their size they’re hard to miss. Trumpeters are also fairly vocal, as opposed to non-native mute swans (which are as quiet as their name indicates). The two can be distinguished by coloration, as mute swans have a bright orange portion of their beak and trumpeters’ beaks are entirely black. Trumpeters are also the largest native bird in North America, with wingspans of 6 feet or more and an average weight of 25 pounds. Because of their girth, a trumpeter must get about a 100-foot running start across a body of water or land in order to take off and fly.
Despite conservation efforts, trumpeter swans still face some unique threats. As large birds, they tend to fly lower than ducks or geese and have more trouble with flying into power lines, although they more successfully avoid wind turbines. However, the biggest threat to trumpeter swan populations is still habitat loss.
Stand by Me
These big birds take three to four years to reach sexual maturity, but they may not bond and mate until years afterward. They are usually monogamous, meaning they pair for life, although occasionally a pair “divorces” to find new partners. Pairs of trumpeters also tend to reuse their nests year to year, and swans may become territorial in breeding season. In Iowa, where reintroduction efforts include clipping certain swans’ wings, a wild mate of a clipped-wing swan will usually stay with their partner rather than fly off to warmer climes. When the pair has a clutch of eggs, both parents spend time incubating—covering the eggs with their feet while sitting on them.
Baby trumpeters, called cygnets, hatch from their eggs after about a month. Within two hours of emerging, they can see, swim, communicate and run along after their parents. At less than one week, they can walk up to a mile, and at three months they can fly. These swans migrate annually, and trumpeters released in Iowa have been recorded traveling as far as north as Canada, west to Colorado, south to Texas and as far east as Kentucky.
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