Return of the Trumpeter Swan
The trumpeter swan, the world’s largest waterfowl, can weigh up to 35 pounds when fully grown, with a wingspan of nearly eight feet. Similar in appearance to other white swans, its distinguishing characteristic is its all-black bill. Trumpeter swans typically create large nests in marshy areas, among cattails and other aquatic plants.
Centuries ago, trumpeter swans were abundant throughout the Great Lakes region, even in southern Michigan. In fact, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit, noted their presence along the Detroit River in 1701. As European settlers spread throughout the state, however, the swan population plummeted.
During the late 19th century, hunters captured swans for their fine down, while settlers drained crucial marsh habitat. By 1933, only 66 trumpeter swans remained in the continental United States, mainly in remote parts of Alaska and the Rocky Mountains.
During the mid-1980s, Michigan initiated a reintroduction program, intended to establish three self-sustaining populations of at least 200 swans by the year 2000. Despite early failures, biologists were able to incubate eggs collected from zoos and rear the cygnets for two years before releasing them into prime wetland habitat. In 1989, biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary traveled to Alaska to collect eggs from wild populations as well.
By 2000, the program was considered a success. At the time, more than 400 trumpeter swans dwelled in Michigan: in the southwestern and northeastern parts of the Lower Peninsula, and in the U.P.’s Seney National Wildlife Refuge.
In recent years, the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, which today nurtures over 20 year-round trumpeter swans, has continued reintroduction efforts. Since 2003, the sanctuary has released 28 swans in order to establish breeding populations elsewhere, including six that were transported to Sleeping Bear Dunes in 2007.
In 2004, Michigan State University conducted a population survey throughout the state; the findings revealed that 655 trumpeter swans were then living in Michigan: roughly 45 percent in the U.P., 26 percent in northeastern Michigan, and 29 percent in the L.P.’s southern portion.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel