Ron Andrews coordinates Iowa’s Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program. He also serves on The Trumpeter Swan Society’s Board of Directors. With characteristic enthusiasm, on February 10th, Andrews led a parade of cars from the Visitor’s Center at Arkansas’ Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge (HBNWR) to a release site near the Arkansas River on the refuge. He looked pretty fresh, considering he and Dave Hoffman, DNR Wildlife Technician, had chauffeured a rowdy crowd of 1st-year Trumpeters down the Interstate Highways the previous day from Iowa. Sixteen teenagers of any sort exude energy – can you imagine the trumpeting on this parade?
Sixteen Trumpeter Swans met 16 citizens willing to help with this third release of Trumpeters as part of a migration experiment. Joe Neal reports he arrived to snow on the ground, and forgetting his coat, had to stuff a blanket under his shirt. When Karen Rowe of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission handed him a 25-pound Trumpeter, he welcomed the pleasant warmth. He describes it this way: “You first must hold their feet tightly – web feet the size of my hands. You firmly hug ‘em to keep that 8-foot wing span closed. Then there is the famous trumpet, a very, very long neck with an anxious, intelligent dark-eyed creature winding it around your neck, over your head, serpent-like, watching all, honking and hissing, way, way ready for release. Even standing in the snow and coatless, I was quite warm and fully employed hanging on to my swan!”
Biologists hope that these young swans got their compass bearings while in Iowa. Now released in Arkansas’ milder winter terrain, it is hoped they will imprint on this area as well, before spring restlessness leads them off to wing their way north. We hope these members of a growing Interior Population of Trumpeters will establish a migration between Iowa and Arkansas.
Many Trumpeter Swans have no experience migrating. Knowledge of routes, potential safe resting areas along the way and wintering areas are learned from parents. Restoration flocks don’t have this traditional information. Managers hope this experiment will result in new migration traditions. Andrews feels that Iowa’s population is on the verge of being self-sustaining, citing 40 nesting pair in 2009! The potential option of wintering in Arkansas helps secure their future.
Swan fans get ready! First-year birds have distinctive dark gray heads. We hope that anyone in states near or south of the 40th parallel will report sightings of these birds when they move. For 2 years, they have been released at HBNWR and on the Buffalo National River; this year there was just one release on the refuge. A total of 51 Trumpeter Swans have been released over the 3 years. All have been marked with green collars with a three-character code that can be used to identify an individual. All have corresponding leg bands as well as standard USGS metal leg bands. Anyone who sees one of the green-collared birds is encouraged to read the numbers and letter on the collar or band and report it on The Trumpeter Swan Society website www.trumpeterswansociety.org.
More observations are needed to know if reverse migration will succeed. It’s an exciting time and you can be part of it by registering to be an observer through TRUMPETER WATCH.
Photo: Iowa Department of Natural Resources