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Trumpeter swan study following young for first year of life

  • 10/20/2020 12:56:00 PM
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The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking Iowans to help with a research project designed to learn more about trumpeter swan survival during the cygnets’ first year of life that will help to better manage and conserve this species.

“We want to get eyes on these birds every two weeks to verify the number of cygnets and see what habitat they’re using,” said Anna Buckardt Thomas, avian ecologist with the Iowa DNR.

The Iowa project is part of a larger population wide movement study on the interior population of trumpeter swans that is being led by the University of Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and involves six states and provinces that are part of the Mississippi Flyway Council - Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Manitoba, and Ohio.

Trumpeter swans stay together as a family group for the cygnets’ first year of life, while they learn how to feed and survive the winter. Most of the data collection as part of Iowa’s project will occur now through June of 2021, once the breeding season is in full swing and the adult pair have run off their young so they can raise another brood.

The DNR targeted family groups as part of the study and captured the swans this summer while one adult was molting and flightless and before the cygnets could fly, resulting in 51 swans receiving collars this summer – nine adults received GPS units and 42 cygnets received green, numbered neck collars. This is the first time the Iowa DNR has place GPS tracking devices on trumpeter swans.

“We would release the family together after capture to make sure they stayed together afterwards,” Buckardt Thomas said. “We’re interested in knowing where any swan with a collar is hanging out.”

The DNR has set up an interactive form online at where Iowans can report any neck collared swans and where they saw them.

The GPS collars are solar powered and record accurate locations every 15 minutes. They connect with cell phone towers to upload data directly to researchers twice each day and can record data for up to three years. There is an up-to-date map of swan locations online at

As for the Iowa collared trumpeter swans, Buckardt Thomas said she hopes Iowans continue to report the bird’s locations beyond the life of the study.

“If people come across them, they can report to the website,” she said. “It’s a way for us to learn more about the behavior and movements of trumpeter swans once their parents kick them out.”