Five trumpeter swans released during Wings on the Prairie eventWINDOM — As they were carried down a gently sloping hill in large pet carriers, five trumpeter swans squawked and trumpeted in anticipation of their impending freedom shortly before noon Saturday at the Wolf Lake Waterfowl Production Area near Windom.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WINDOM — As they were carried down a gently sloping hill in large pet carriers, five trumpeter swans squawked and trumpeted in anticipation of their impending freedom shortly before noon Saturday at the Wolf Lake Waterfowl Production Area near Windom.
It’s the 11th year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Windom Wetland Management District has conducted a swan release on Wolf Lake, all in hopes of re-establishing the native bird’s presence in southwest Minnesota.
There is usually a mix of males and females to be released into the wild, but this year the office received all males. That, said Park Ranger Howard Paul, may mean the birds won’t stay in this particular area. The males, once they’ve found a mate, tend to follow the female back to the area where she first took flight.
Still, with a span of two to five years before these 2-year-old swans reach reproductive age, it’s hoped they will return to Wolf Lake and the area for at least a couple more years.
Saturday’s trumpeter swan release was one of several activities hosted by the USFWS during its annual Wings on the Prairie event at the district headquarters. The five birds volunteers released into the wild as storm clouds rolled in brought the total number of swans given freedom at Wolf Lake to 70.
“These birds typically come out of the Minnesota Zoo, and this is the last year the Minnesota Zoo is going to be working with trumpeter swans,” Paul said. “They’re changing out their program and putting in penguins.”
That change leaves Paul and others wondering if there will be another trumpeter swan release at Wolf Lake.
“It becomes a question, do we continue the trumpeter swan program in southwest Minnesota or move on to something else?” Paul asked. “We will always have a Wings on the Prairie (event).”
Paul said he has some potential sources for trumpeter swans in the future, but he has yet to work with members of the North Heron Lake Game Producers Association on a plan. The NHLGPA sponsors the swan release.
One aspect to consider moving forward is the seemingly high mortality rate of the trumpeter swans released at Wolf Lake. Though Paul said the area can certainly “sustain additional birds,” there are a lot of obstacles the birds have to deal with. He noted the new wind turbines near Lakefield, additional cell towers and lots of power lines as structures that contribute to the death of swans. Hunger mortality is also a cause, and on the flip side, predators pick up some of the blame as well.
Paul has the skeletal remains of a swan’s head in his office —the remnant left by a coyote — and suspects many of the cygnets that have hatched at Wolf Lake have fallen prey to the great horned owl. Since 2005, Wolf Lake has been home to one breeding pair, and despite successful hatches of up to five cygnets per year, only one cygnet each year has survived to make the migratory flight south with its parents.
The swans that spend their summers in southwest Minnesota typically migrate to the Leavenworth, Kan., area, and Paul said the latest counts show 24 to 28 birds stick together to make the flight back north.
“If all the birds survived, that would be more in the 65 to 70 bird range,” he added.
Each of the trumpeter swans released at Wolf Lake are fitted with a wing patagial tag with an ID number. The tags and numbers are used to track each swan’s movements, and Paul said they rely heavily on the public for information about the swans’ travel habits.
Anyone seeing a tagged trumpeter swan is encouraged to report it to the USFWS office in Windom, the Department of Natural Resources or the Trumpeter Swan Society. The five swans released on Saturday bear orange tags on their right wing, and contain the ID numbers of 389, 390, 391, 392 and 393.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.