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Trumpeter Swan Restoration

Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinators) historically nested throughout the state of Iowa; however, wetland drainage and unregulated harvest of trumpeters led to the extirpation of the species, with the last nesting pair occurring in 1883. Trumpeter swans were first given nationwide protection in 1918 with the International Migratory Bird Treaty. A nationwide survey in the early 1930s indicated that there were only 69 trumpeter swans in the continental United States, all located at what became the Red Rocks Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Southwest Montana.


The Iowa Department of Natural Resources first developed a plan to restore trumpeter swans to the state in 1993. An initial goal was set to establish 15 nesting pairs by 2003, which was met by 2004, and by 2005, 25 pairs were nesting in the state. At the same time, the Iowa DNR launched their Trumpet the Cause for Wetlands program to promote the positive values of wetlands. The trumpeter swan has served as an excellent ambassador for wetland conservation. 

Trumpeter swans were first given nationwide protection in 1918 when the United States, Canada, and Mexico signed the International Migratory Bird Treaty. A nationwide swan count in the early 1930’s showed that only 69 existed in the continental United States with all those occurring in Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Montana.

Between 1995 and 2021, the Iowa DNR released over 1,200 trumpeter swans in over 80 locations. Swans restored to the state were obtained from zoos, private propagators, and other state swan projects. The DNR also established flightless breeder pairs at appropriate sites, the young of which were allowed free flight. As many as 50 breeding pair partnership sites were established at the height of restoration.


This restoration was made possible through outside funding including a generous $143,000 in memory of David A. and Robert Luglan Sampson, formerly of Webster City. Numerous individuals, organizations, and corporations have contributed significant smaller dollar amounts. Considerable soft match in-kind contributions have also been made and are estimated at over $250,000.


As of 2022 over 130 pairs of trumpeter swans nest across the state and over 5000 trumpeter Swans winter in Iowa, depending on the year. After much effort and support from the public, the DNR is excited about the future of trumpeter swan in the state. Our focus is now shifting to maintaining and creating suitable wetland habitat to help support the population and monitoring their population into the future as they continue to expand naturally. For more information about Trumpeter Swans you can visit the Trumpeter Swan webpage


Peregrine Falcon Restoration

Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) nested in Iowa until the biocide crash of the 1950s caused by pesticides like DDT, with the last confirmed nest in 1956. Peregrine falcon numbers were so low that by 1964 they were extirpated (locally extinct) from the eastern United States as a breeding bird. Iowa’s Peregrine Falcon Restoration project began in 1989 against the background of a nationwide movement to restore the bird. Iowa set an initial goal of establishing 5 breeding pairs by the year 2000 with an ultimate goal of 10 breeding pairs for a viable population. 

Peregrine falcon

The Midwestern and Great Lakes region met their goal of 20-25 breeding pairs and then made a new goal of 40 pairs. This secondary goal was met in 1994 with 61 territorial pairs and 41 successful nesting pairs. Iowa had only two nesting pairs in 1994, both of which were utilizing nest boxes on high-rise buildings in urban areas. It did not look like Iowa would reach its goal of five breeding pairs by 2000 without additional releases. In 1998, the Iowa DNR decided to prioritize returning falcons to their historic nesting eyries and focused on cliff-side releases as opposed to urban releases. Iowa first reached their goal of five nesting peregrine falcons in 2002 when they had six falcon territories with five of them successfully fledging young. 

The peregrine falcon was delisted as a federal endangered species in 1999, though it remained an Iowa state endangered species until 2010. 2010 also happened to be the first year Iowa had 20 successful peregrine falcon nests. In 2022 16 territorial pairs nested and produced at least 21 young!

To learn more about Peregrine Falcons and read the annual status report visit the Peregrine Falcon  Webpage

Prairie Chicken Restoration

In the 1880s Great Prairie Chickens (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus) were the most abundant gamebird on Iowa’s prairies and they were common nesters in the state until the early 1900s. Bags of 25-50 a day were common and some hunters took as many as 200 a day. By 1878, Iowa’s lawmakers were concerned that prairie chickens were being over harvested and limited the daily bag to 25 birds per person. This is believed to be the first time daily limits were used to regulate harvest. Additional restrictions continued to be implemented as the population continued to decrease with 1915 as the last year a season on prairie chickens was held. Agricultural land use was also contributing to the decline of prairie chickens, and the loss of grassland continued after the overharvesting was ended. The last known nesting of prairie chickens before reintroduction was in 1952.

In the early 1980s, the Iowa Conservation Commission, the precursor to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), made its first attempt to reintroduce prairie chickens. Although 101 birds were released in the Loess Hills, east of Onawa, Monona County, no permanent leks, the communal ground for breeding displays, were established and only the occasional prairie chicken was seen, leading to the conclusion that this reintroduction attempt failed. 

A second restoration attempt was started in 1987, this time at Ringgold Wildlife Area, located two miles north of the Missouri border. Between 1987 and 1989, 254 prairie chickens were translocated. By the spring of 1988, leks had been established at the release site and at a site 15 km south in Missouri on Dunn Ranch, which was a historic lek site before the prairie chickens were extirpated from the area. 1990 and 1991 had poor reproductive conditions for the birds, but brood sightings were still made every year. By 1991 the prairie chickens seemed firmly established at Dunn Ranch, though only one lek with six males could be found in Iowa. However, the success at Dunn Ranch proved that the species could be restored. 

With the Dunn Ranch success in mind, another restoration that released 304 prairie-chickens was attempted between 1992 and 1994. It was during this release period that the Kellerton lek, Iowa’s main lek site currently, was firmly established. Since 2012, the DNR has been following the Iowa Management Plan for Greater Prairie Chickens, which included a detailed analysis of habitat in Ringgold County and recommendations for managing the habitat for prairie chickens. The plan also included a continued translocation effort that ended in 2017 to bolster the diminishing population of birds. The reintroduction efforts have resulted in a small population of prairie chickens in a concentrated area of southern Iowa and northern Missouri. The Iowa Management Plan for Greater Prairie-chickens has set objectives for prairie chicken population numbers as well as objectives to enhance the landscape to increase the amount of native grasses and provide more habitat for chickens and other grassland dependent wildlife. Population monitoring is ongoing.  

Prairie-chicken Sightings Wanted!  

In order to ensure this species stays in Iowa we need to know how prairie chickens are distributed in Southern Iowa. Sightings of prairie chickens are possible in Adair, Madison, Adams, Union, Clarke, Taylor, Ringgold, Decatur and Wayne Counties.

If you see any prairie chickens, whether it is on a booming ground or was flushed out of some grass, we would like to hear about it. Call Stephanie at 515-230-6599 or e-mail  You can also fill out this online form