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home : columns : columns October 21, 2018

1/16/2018 1:28:00 PM
Saving and protecting trumpeter swans
Eloise, a local trumpeter swan who may become an important element in conservation. photo by Robin Gold
+ click to enlarge
Eloise, a local trumpeter swan who may become an important element in conservation. photo by Robin Gold

By Jim Anderson

One of the developments I did not foresee when I rolled into Bend on my Harley in 1951 was that in the year 2018 I'd find myself helping trumpeter swans.

Trumpeters were once found throughout North America, but by 1933 fewer than 70 wild trumpeters were known to exist. Extinction seemed imminent until aerial surveys discovered a Pacific population of several thousand trumpeters around Alaska's Cooper River.

Since then, careful reintroduction by wildlife agencies and the efforts of the Trumpeter Swan Society (http://www.trumpeterswan are gradually restoring the North American wild population. Finances for the work don't come from government budgets today, but from generous private donations and grants.

In Sisters Country, it was the Cyrus family and their diversification from farming into land development that brought the trumpeter swan into focus for conservation efforts.

Pam Cyrus Mitchell and her mom recalled how they got started in trumpeters:

"About 19 years ago we ordered a breeding pair of trumpeters by mail to reside on the beautiful 11-acre landscaping pond on the property.

"An additional male swan was donated by Cascade Meadow Ranch, but it became aggressive after losing its mate to a predator. It was hoped that a wild swan that was hanging out at the pond would stay, but when it eventually moved on, a female was purchased to complete the pair.

"The swans nested multiple times, but their eggs were destroyed by ravens every spring. Unfortunately, through the years two of the birds were lost; one was shot and killed by an arrow and a second was mauled by a dog. Consequently, they were down to two in 2017."

Last year, when - as Robin Gold, a wildlife rehabber and resident of Aspen Lakes, puts it - "nine-million inches of snow and extended sub-freezing temperatures hit us" - the swan's pond froze over. To help protect the swans from the elements, Cyrus's captured the two swans and kept them in a vacant stall in a barn where they could be fed and watered. Once the pond thawed out, the swans were returned to the open water.

During the summer, one of the residents of Aspen Lakes became concerned that one of the swans had something wrong with her feet. Some of the webbing was gone and the edges had turned white. Because of her rehab experiences back east, Robin was suddenly thrust into the swan business and offered a pen in her garage to help treat the huge bird.

After contacting avian specialist vets in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and Cassandra Lodge at Broken Top Veterinary Clinic, it was thought the bird's feet were frostbitten and might have become infected. It was treated and returned to the pond, but unfortunately died later in the summer.

At this time it became a concern as to what would happen to the remaining swan, now named "Eloise."

Robin saw a larger picture as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), the Cyrus Family and the residents of Aspen Lakes began to take more interest in the welfare of Eloise.

ODFW wildlife biologist Simon Wray became involved, and agreed to evaluate the Aspen Lakes site to determine if the location would qualify to be part of the trumpeter swan breeding program.

Once that was approved, the biologists caught the swan to ensure that Eloise was really Eloise and not Elliot. Aspen Lakes resident Tim Ross installed a bubbler in the pond to keep it from freezing, and Robin volunteered to take over the winter feed supplementation.

She also started FOE "Friends of Eloise" and started the ball rolling toward getting Eloise a mate and placing their off-spring into the Trumpeter Swan Society's inventory of cygnets that would become part of the North American Trumpeter Recovery Project.

Which gets us to what is happening to Oregon's trumpeter swans today. In 1992, the Oregon Trumpeter Swan Relocation Project got going under the leadership of Dr. Gary Ivy of Bend.

"Unfortunately, a waterfowl hunter shot and killed two of the trumpeter juveniles at Summer Lake, but in other parts of Oregon, trumpeter swans are beginning to reappear," Dr. Ivy said.

As proof, a recent report from a birder over in the Willamette Valley had this to say: "While birding around Brownsmead this morning, I was told about a group of seven trumpeter swans that have been at Coffenbury Lake (in Fort Stevens State Park) for a few weeks. As trumpeters would be county record birds, we decided to check them out.

"After some initial confusion and extensive review of photos of these birds and other trumpeter and tundra swan photos online, we have comfortably concluded that they are trumpeters."

Trumpeters are the largest surviving species of waterfowl, with adults measuring four-feet-six-inches to five-feet-five-inches long, and some large males that exceed five-feet-11-inches in length. The weight of adult birds is typically 15 to 30 pounds, and their wingspan ranges from six-feet-one-inch to eight-feet-two-inches, while the largest known male trumpeter attained a length of six feet, a wingspan 10-feet-two-inches and a weight of 38 pounds.

Unfortunately, a new threat has popped up, taking a toll on trumpeters. Old deposits of lead from waterfowl hunting are still found in some ponds, refuges and wildlife management areas and it's being gobbled up by bottom-feeding swans, killing them.

It's hoped cygnets from Eloise and her soon-to-be-mate will be placed in the hands of the biologists of the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project and ultimately bring the count of the species to such numbers wildlife biologists can relax, and we will see and hear them commonly trumpeting overhead.

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