Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Inland Lakes of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore by Jayne Schafer

Background: Historically, Trumpeter Swans were abundant throughout the Great Lakes region, even in the southern Michigan marshlands. However, following settlement, populations plummeted. Beginning in the 1800s, European settlers cleared the land, draining and filling important marsh habitat, killed swans for food, and market hunters took swans for their fine down and quills. Mute Swans, which are native to Europe and Asia, were brought to the United States from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s and competed with Trumpeters for dwindling aquatic habitats.  By 1933, only 66 Trumpeter Swans remained in the continental United States, in a remote part of the Rocky Mountains. Nearly 100 years passed before Trumpeter Swans were seen again in the Michigan wilds.

During the 1980s, Michigan began a swan reintroduction program. The Michigan commitment was the establishment of three self-sustaining populations of at least 200 swans by the year 2000. Early attempts at cross-fostering Trumpeter eggs with Mute Swans yielded low success rates and were abandoned. Rearing of cygnets for two years prior to releasing them into prime wetland habitat was then implemented. Eggs were collected from zoos and incubated to hatching. The Michigan restoration program has been successful: the 2000 count of Trumpeter Swans in Michigan exceeded 400 individuals. In late summer, 2010, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment participated in a continent-wide census to determine the population size and distribution of Trumpeter swans.  Results are pending.

Sleeping Bear Dunes (SLBE) Project:   Between 2006 and 2007, the park, in association with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, released 14 Trumpeter Swan cygnets as part of a reintroduction program.   Eight cygnets were banded and released in July of 2006. An additional 6 cygnets were banded and released the following summer.

  • Source cygnets came from the W. K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary located between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek and were supplied to the park by the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians.
  • Cygnets were within 3 or 4 weeks of flight and were released within six hours of capture.
  • The SLBE release site was selected based upon habitat quality and the low visitation to this area.  Ample food for growth and building reserves for fall flight was noted in the area. Other considerations included risk to illegal hunting/shooting, lead shot, and predation.


  • Following the release, a habitat survey was completed for all of the lakes within SLBE to evaluate the quality of Trumpeter Swan habitat.  The survey will be used to prioritize locations for future swan releases.
  • To date, follow-up monitoring has not been completed due to staffing constraints.  VOLUNTEERS ARE NEEDED for the spring of 2011.

Sleeping Bear Dunes biologist Sue Jennings reports that she observed a group of 7 adults swimming close to shore on Lake Michigan (near Esch Beach) in May, 2010, and other sightings during the summer were received. However, it has been a few years since park staff members have been able to actively monitor Trumpeter Swan nesting activities. Piping Plover work has been the top priority due to their endangered status, but Sue is hoping the park will be able to conduct nesting surveys for Trumpeter Swans as well as Common Loons next spring.

She is seeking VOLUNTEERS for the spring of 2011; and we hope to help her find people interested in assisting with a Trumpeter Swan nesting survey. She needs 1-2 individuals who would be available at least 1-2 days/week in early April through Mid-May. Proficiency with a canoe or kayak (intermediate level) is a requirement. Individuals familiar with the species (identification, nesting behavior) would be ideal, however, Sue would provide the necessary training (field identification and monitoring protocols) and field equipment (kayak/canoe, binoculars, etc.) to competent individuals.  

If you are interested, please contact:

Sue Jennings


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

9922 Front Street

Empire, MI 49630

231-326-5134 ext. 422


TTSS thanks Sue Jennings for her work with Trumpeters and for the background data for this Blog feature.


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