This morning their musical honking calls draw me to the shore of the small natural environmental lake bordering our farm. Yes, there they are, sounding like a symphony in brass—our pair of trumpeter swans in gleaming white plumage with two dusky gray cygnets by their side. Soon they, too, will be migrating.
Our lake with its abundant wild rice crop is ideal breeding habitat for them as they prefer large shallow ponds, undisturbed lakes, pristine wetlands and wide shallow rivers and marshes in northwestern and central North America. Their nesting sites must have enough space for them to take off as well as accessible food, shallow, unpolluted water and little to no human disturbance. Our Camp Lake meets all the criteria.
We almost lost these magnificent birds due to over hunting and feather collecting. By 1933, fewer than 70 wild trumpeters were known to exist, and extinction seemed imminent until aerial surveys discovered a Pacific population of several thousand around Alaska’s Copper River. Careful reintroduction by wildlife agencies and the Trumpeter Swan Society gradually restored the North America wild population to 46,000 by 2010.
Natural populations of these swans migrate to and from the Pacific Coast and portions of the U.S., flying in v-shaped flocks. In winter, they migrate to the southern tier of Canada and eastern part of the northwestern states in the U.S.
The trumpeter swan is the heaviest bird native to North America. It’s also the largest extant species of waterfowl with a wingspan that may exceed 10 feet. Due to seasonal variation based on food access and variability due to age, males may weigh between 24-28 lbs.; females 21-23 lbs. Trumpeters feed while swimming, sometimes upending or dabbling to reach submerged food with their large, wedge-shaped black bill. Their diet is almost entirely aquatic grasses and grains in fields.
Most pair bonds are formed when swans are 5-7 years old; though some pairs do not bond until they are nearly 20 years old. Trumpeters often mate for life, and both parents participate in raising their young. Most egg-laying occurs between late April and May. The female lays three-12 eggs, four-six being average, in a mound of plant material on a small island, a beaver or muskrat lodge, or a float- ing platform on a clump of emergent vegetation. Incubation is 32-37 days handled by the female but occasionally by the male. The young are able to swim within two days and capable of feeding themselves in two weeks. The fledgling stage is around three-four months.
As of 2013, trumpeter swans were no longer listed as threatened in Minnesota. These swans are symbols of hope showing that science, partnerships and perseverance can bring a species back from the brink of extinction.
Linda Hommes lives on a small farm on Camp Lake in Kimberly Township. An outdoor enthusiast, she writes nature essays, memoir and poetry.