Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Swans Mystery

Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Back to the mystery swans we encountered at The Wilds. As some of you web-savvy readers have already determined, these were trumpeter swans. I should pay more attention when I name my images for uploading!

Before 1900, trumpeter swans were extirpated from most of their North American breeding ranges by hunting. Only a remnant breeding population remained in Alaska and remote parts of the West.

During the 1990s there was a captive breeding and reintroduction program for trumpeter swans here in Ohio. The Wilds served as a captive rearing facility for birds hatched in captivity. The goal was to acclimate the birds to living in the wild so they could later be released along the Lake Erie marshes. More than 150 swans were released and today there is a small breeding population. At The Wilds a few birds are still around. I assume the flight feathers on their clipped wings grew back and they are now fully flighted, but don;t really know where to go.

The weird thing about these two birds is that one had black legs and one had yellow legs—at least the upper parts of the legs we could see above the water. You can see this in the photo below: the right hand bird has the yellow upper legs.

We checked the birds carefully in the spotting scope. Black bills eliminated mute swan. No pale yellow lore leaned us toward trumpeter. The notably long, straight black bill also pointed to trumpeter. The yellow-legged bird also was banded.

Yep. Captive but free-flying trumpeters.

Knowing that trumpeters had been captive-raised here, it's exciting, but not that exciting, to see them. Now if these had turned out to be tundra swans, we'd have been a bit more stoked. Tundras fly right over southeastern Ohio in the late fall/early winter on their way to the Atlantic Coast. Seeing a couple of tundra swans is always a notable event.

Odd swans are the least weird thing one can see while birding at The Wilds. More on that soon.


On December 9, 2009 at 7:25 PM jason said...

So, um, let me see if I understand this. We nearly exterminate the trumpeter swan. Now, through captive rearing and release programs, the species is being helped to occupy its original native territory. Meanwhile, it's fighting the presence of the introduced mute swan that vies for the same territory. And, having seen a pair of trumpeter swans no matter their origin, you wish you'd seen something different, namely the most numerous and widespread swan in North America, the tundra swan. Did I get that right? Because I'm confused.

On December 9, 2009 at 9:46 PM Heather said...

I knew about the trumpeters at the Wilds, so I kept quiet about that on the last post, but you have got my attention by mentioning that you saw other "weird" things whilst birding at the Wilds. I'm curious whether such weird things are avian or mammalian?!

On December 10, 2009 at 10:16 AM Birding is Fun! said...

We've got a good mix of Tundra and Trumpeter Swans in Idaho. More Trumpeters in eastern Idaho though. Field identification is always a challenge. We also have an on-going debate about whether we have any wild breeding Mute Swans. We see them often enough, but...

On December 10, 2009 at 10:32 AM Bill of the Birds said...

Thanks Heather.
Jason: Yep you got things about right.

Except for this: I'm not sure the trumpeter is fighting for its survival against mute swans as much as against habitat loss and a century of persecution.

I'm always more excited to see actual wild, native birds than I am to see escapees from a captive breeding facility. Still, these trumpeters were quite beautiful to look at.

On December 15, 2009 at 11:41 AM Kathie Brown said...

Bill, it's nice to see that even an expert can get confused sometimes! That last shot looks like they are pracitcing to be bridge supports! Just lay a board across their backs and let the traffic cross!