Migrating swans move through Iowa

(Above) A flock of trumpeter swans feed on waste grain in a stubble field located south of Clear Lake State Park.  Enroute to nesting areas in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada; large numbers of trumpeters are currently migrating northward through Iowa.  Some will stay in Iowa; more than 100 pairs nested in the state during 2020. - Photo by Lowell Washburn.

Some will choose to stay in North Iowa

by Lowell Washburn

Pushing hard on the heels of a retreating winter, migrating trumpeter swans are moving northward.  For area wildlife enthusiasts, the sight and sound of wild swans is a heart stirring event.

With peak weights exceeding 30-pounds, the trumpeter swan is North America’s largest waterfowl.  Although swans were an abundant nesting species at the time of Iowa settlement, unregulated hunting for meat and skins coupled with wholesale wetland drainage led to a rapid demise.  By the mid-1880s, swans no longer existed in the state.  Similar declines were occurring elsewhere.  By the 1930s, only 70 surviving trumpeters remained in the entire U.S.

In 1993, the DNR launched a recovery project aimed at restoring a token population of wild swans to state marshlands.  Spearheaded by Iowa wildlife biologist, Ron Andrews, the project focused on the release of captive reared youngsters [cygnets] with the goal of establishing 15 nesting pairs by 2003.  Many of those released birds survived and in 1998, the first modern-day pair of free ranging swans successfully nested in Iowa.

Today, wild trumpeters are successfully reclaiming historic and restored wetland nesting areas across the state.  During the summer of 2020, 119 nesting pairs of trumpeter swans were inventoried statewide.  Swans currently nest in 37 Iowa counties with the greatest densities occurring in Northern Iowa.  

  Enjoy more wildlife tales online at Washburn’s Outdoor Journal at iawildlife.org/blog

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