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Trumpeter Swan Restoration

Prior to the settlement of Iowa, trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) nested throughout the state. However, wetland drainage and unregulated hunting of trumpeters soon brought their demise. Until 1998, the last wild nesting trumpeter swan in Iowa occurred in 1883 on the Twin Lakes Wildlife Area southwest of Belmond, Iowa in Hancock County. In 1998, three cygnets hatched from a wild nesting trumpeter pair in Dubuque County. This pair hatched 5 in 1999 and 5 again in 2000.

In 2000, a second pair nested on a Winnebago County Conservation Board wetland (Russ Tract at Thorpe Park) 7 miles west of Forest City. This pair had 5 eggs. Unfortunately none hatched. We did, however, add a 6th egg and it hatched providing this pair with a young cygnet to help bond the pair to the wetland nest site.

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.

In 1993 the Iowa Department of Natural Resources developed a plan to restore trumpeter swans back to the state. Our goals are to: (1) establish 15 wild nesting pairs back to the state by the year 2003 and (2) use the swans to promote the many values of wetlands not only for wildlife habitat but for water quality and flood reduction.

Iowa swans are being obtained from zoos, private propagators, other state swan projects, and any other sources that might have swans available. We are also establishing flightless breeder pairs at appropriate sites, the young of which will be allowed free flight. To date, 50 breeding pair partnership sites are established. All trumpeter swans released in Iowa will be marked with plastic green and red neck collars and leg bands as well as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bands. The plastic neck and leg bands are marked with alpha letter F, H, P, or J and numbers 00 through 99.

We are trying to obtain as much out-side funding as possible and we are the fortunate recipients of $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.

After three years of migration observations, most Iowa swans that migrate some distance are wintering in northeast and east central Kansas and northwest and west-central Missouri. One Iowa trumpeter swan did winter as far south as Oklahoma during the winter of 1998-99, and one swan wintered near Heber Springs, Arkansas in 1999-2000. If swans can find open water many of them will remain throughout the state of Iowa. Migration movements “out of that norm”, included 3 swans released at Union Slough NWR that migrated to and wintered in southeast Colorado near Ft Lyon. Two of these were observed at Monticello, Minnesota in the spring of 1997. The straight-line round trip mileage for these birds is over 1300 miles.

A review of swan sightings indicates that over the last 5 years most areas of state are now seeing swans at sometime during the year. This is another indication that the restoration effort, although slow, is moving forward. During 2000, 34 of our partnership pairs produced 118 young. Six additional nests failed to hatch and about 3 dozen of the 118 young have died of various mortality causes. Unless we have unfortunate luck, we should be able to release nearly 80 swans during the spring of 2001. The DNR is excited about what the future holds for trumpeter swan in the state.

Known mortality to date includes the following: 14 have died in powerline collisions, 21 were shot, 2 of apparent malnutrition, and 9 unknown causes. Several other mortalities have likely occurred from completely unknown causes as we have not had any observations of many unmarked swans. Mortality rates are somewhat higher than anticipated and will likely slow our trumpeter swan restoration efforts.

A major milestone was reached in 1998, 1999, and again in 2000, when the first and second free-flying trumpeters nested in Iowa since 1883. Four free flying females have bonded mated with 4 captive/pinioned males and have produced eggs. Besides these we apparently have several pairs of Iowa swans nesting in southern Minnesota (one near Mankato, Minnesota is touted being the Minnesota DNR’s southern most production) and at least one Iowa bird, a male, is part of a nesting pair on the north shore of Lake Ontario. We are hopeful that 2001 may add 3 or 4 additional free-flying nesting pairs of swans to the state.

As you may have gathered, the Iowa DNR's restoration efforts are not complete, nor are they a go it alone effort. The continued success of this restoration depends upon the generosity and commitment of volunteers and concerned citizens that value the swans and their habitat. These involved and caring citizens range from school children to waterfowl hunters.

Peregrine Falcon Restoration

The peregrine falcon is a state endangered species. It was federally endangered also, but it was delisted in 1999. Prior to 1960, there were over 350 nests in the eastern U.S. By 1964 not a single peregrine nest was found in the eastern U.S.; and in 1975, only 39 peregrine pairs remained in the lower 48 states. Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcon

DDT pesticides were found to be the main cause of the decline. The pesticides were ingested by birds who ate insects, who in turn were eaten by peregrines. With each step up the food chain, the negative effects increased. The pesticides inhibited the peregrines’ (and bald eagles’) ability to produce enough calcium for the eggshells. This caused vast reproductive failure. Eventually there were no young to replace the adult birds, and the population plummeted.

The dangers of DDT were eventually recognized, and the pesticide was banned from use in the U.S. in 1972. Thus the peregrine has already once been proven as a valuable indicator of the quality of our environment.

Peregrines in Iowa nested primarily on rocky bluffs along the Mississippi River in Allamakee, Clayton, Dubuque, and Clinton counties, plus along cliffs in Linn and Johnson counties. Black Hawk, Boone, and Dallas counties also held nesting peregrines. The last documented Iowa birds nested in 1956, prior to reintroduction.

To restore peregrines, biologists with the Peregrine Fund began “hacking” young falcons in 1974 in eastern states. Hacking involves placing captively produced young falcons in a hack box. The birds are held and fed in the box for several days. Then the box is opened and the birds are free to learn how to fly. Because they cannot capture their own food, they continue to be fed at the box for 6 more weeks. The ultimate goal is to imprint the young on the area (where released) so that when the birds are sexually mature, they come back to the area to nest.

In the Midwest, peregrines were first hacked in southeastern Minnesota in 1982. From 1989-1992, Iowa released 50 peregrines in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and Muscatine, as part of the midwestern effort of the Eastern Peregrine Recovery Program. Midwestern releases have been coordinated by Dr. Pat Redig of the Raptor Center, University of Minnesota. Through 2000, over 900 peregrines have been released in the Midwest.

Some peregrines released in the Midwest have returned to the same areas to nest. Others have nested in adjacent states. In 1986, the Midwest had its first peregrine falcon nest in nearly 30 years. By 2000, there were 129 peregrine falcon pairs successfully fledging 243 young. The recovery goal for the Midwest of 40 nesting pairs has been well surpassed.

As a result of releases, Iowa has 5 nesting pairs of peregrines, one pair each in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Lansing, Davenport, and the Louisa Generating Station. The Des Moines pair consists of male 93T (from 1990 Cedar Rapids release) and female 13R (from 1991 Kansas City release). This pair has nested each year since 1993 in alcoves atop the American Republic Insurance Building and has fledged (including 3 young in 2001) 19 young. The Cedar Rapids pair consists of male 64T (from 1989 Cedar Rapids release) and female S*/5* (produced by Des Moines pair in 1998). S*/5* replaced female 49R (from 1991 Des Moines release) in 2000. This nest site in a nest box atop the USBank has produced young each year since 1993. Including the 3 young hatched in May 2002, the Cedar Rapids nest has produced 26 (includes one fostered) young. The Lansing pair first nested in 1999, and thanks to efforts by falconer Bob Anderson, is now nesting in a box attached to a cliff. A fourth falcon pair is nesting in a nest box atop the MidAmerican Energy Bldg. in Davenport, and a fifth pair has initiated a nest in 2002 in a nest box on a smokestack at the Louisa Generating Station south of Muscatine. A sixth potential peregrine nest territory has been reported at Mason City by Master Falconer and DNR employee, Lowell Washburn (who previously hacked 25 peregrines from that site).

Because Iowa was not reaching its recovery goal of 5 nesting peregrine pairs by the year 2000, more peregrines were released. An Iowa Peregrine Falcon Recovery Team was formed in 1995 with the goal of establishing a self-sustaining peregrine population nesting at the historic cliff-face eyries of the Mississippi River. From 1995-2000, 104 peregrines were hacked from boxes in Mason City, Bluffton, Effigy Mounds, Dubuque, and the Louisa Generating Station.

In 2000, for the first time in about 40 years, 5 pairs of peregrines were documented nesting on the cliffs of the Mississippi River. Several of these falcons were identified as originating from Iowa releases or nests.

In Iowa, the peregrine project is being spearheaded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Diversity Program. The Wildlife Diversity Program is funded by donations to the Fish and Wildlife Protection Fund Checkoff on the state income tax form. Numerous conservation groups, businesses, schools and individuals have also contributed to this project. In particular, we wish to acknowledge helpful members from the Iowa Falconer's Association, the Raptor Resource Project, Kirkwood Community College, Macbride Raptor Project, US Bank (formerly Firstar Bank) in Cedar Rapids, American Republic Insurance Company in Des Moines, MidAmerican Energy in Davenport and the Louisa Generating Station, and Alliant Energy near Lansing. Our thanks to the many partners and volunteers who are making the peregrine recovery a success! 

More Peregrine Falcon Information: US Fish & Wildlife: American Peregrine Falcon

Prairie Chicken Restoration

At dawn on a cool spring morning, the male steps out into the open prairie. Fanning out his tail feathers and raising the two sets of feather tufts on his head, he starts calling for a mate. The call of the Greater Prairie-Chicken is no ordinary bird song; the male inflates brightly-colored air sacs on the side of his throat to make a deep "booming" sound while rapidly stomping his feet on the ground ("dancing"). Males gather on booming grounds (also called "leks") to show off their booming and dancing skills, and hopefully catch the eye of a watching female.

A medium-sized grouse, prairie chickens were abundant in tallgrass prairies in the eastern and central United States at the time of European settlement. Their numbers began to decline in the late 1800s because of habitat loss and market hunting. The last known nesting in Iowa occurred in Appanoose County in 1952.

Today, most of the Greater Prairie-Chickens are found in Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, with small populations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and North Dakota. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reintroduced prairie chickens to Iowa twice in the 1980s - in the Loess Hills in Monona County and the Ringgold Wildlife Area in Ringgold County. While the Loess Hills attempt did not succeed, the Iowa DNR was able to establish a wild-nesting population from the birds released in Ringgold. In 1999, the Kellerton Grasslands Bird Conservation Area (BCA) was created using the Ringgold Wildlife Area and other surrounding land.

Prairie Chicken Range and Known Lek Sites in Iowa
The Kellerton Grasslands BCA is being actively managed to provide the best habitat for the prairie chickens. Leks have little to no vegetation in order to give females the best view of the display, so males are very vulnerable. Allowing any trees or shrubs to grow near the booming grounds could provide a perch for predators. Taller grasses nearby offer a place for females to nest. A large and diverse spread of grassland is needed to support this species.   

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

So how do you know if you've seen or heard a prairie chicken?
Greater Prairie-Chickens are brown with whitish barring. Both sexes have elongated neck feathers that normally lay down on either side of the back of the neck. The tail is short and rounded and solid brown in males; barred in females. You can further tell males and females apart by orange "eyebrows" and orange-pink air sacs on the males. In comparison female pheasants are more speckled with brown and white rather than barred and the tail is long and pointed.


When displaying male prairie chickens make a distinct noise referred to as booming which resembles a sort of pulsating hum (similar to blowing air across a bottle top) interspersed with occasional whoops.

To hear and see the prairie chicken booming follow the link to watch a short video put together by the Missouri Department of Conservation: (off-site)