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WORLD OUTDOORS: Trumpeter Swans making huge resurgence

WORLD OUTDOORS: Trumpeter Swans making huge resurgence

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As many of you are aware, I work as a fish biologist at the Quad-Cities Nuclear Station during the day, which keeps me in tune with the Mississippi River. While I tend to focus on fish and other local wildlife, occasionally I get an unexpected call.

Curt Kemmerer, wildlife management biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources contacted me to inquire about a GPS-collared trumpeter swan that had taken up residence near our plant. He explained that a family group of seven birds was tagged in Cardinal Marsh, near Decorah, Iowa, during the summer and now they were “pinging” just north of the Quad-Cities near Cordova.

“The Iowa DNR project is part of a collaborative research project being led by the University of Minnesota USGS Coop Unit to track the movement and migration of trumpeter swans across the Midwest,” said Anna Buckardt Thomas, an avian biologist for the Iowa DNR.

As part of this research, the Iowa DNR deployed GPS collars on nine adult Trumpeter Swans this past summer. These GPS collars record location data every 15 minutes, and the collar data downloads to the researchers via cellular connection once each day. These collars are solar charged and will continue to collect data for up to three years.

If you are interested in more details, you can visit the website at

Trumpeters are very unique in that they are one of the largest flying birds in the world, with wild birds approaching 30 pounds and with 8-foot wing spans. There is even a confirmed wild bird that weighed 38 pounds with a wingspan exceeding 10 feet. This was not a well-fed zoo animal either.

In addition to this collaborative GPS collar effort, the Iowa DNR is also interested in learning about the survival and habitat use of young trumpeter swans, called cygnets. Cygnets stay with their parents for almost a year, from the time they hatch until early the following spring.

In order to learn more about the survival of cygnets during their first year, IDNR deployed green plastic ID collars on each cygnet of the adults who were fitted with a GPS collar. Each cygnet’s collar displays a unique three-digit code, making individuals identifiable from a distance. Periodically, by visiting the known GPS locations of the adults, they are able to relocate each family group and record their habitat use from collared animals, which helps determine survival rates. To report a green-collared swan to the Iowa DNR visit

The information gathered during these two studies will help improve our understanding of trumpeter swan movements and migrations across the Midwest and will inform the Iowa DNR's trumpeter swan conservation and management decisions.

“The goal is to fully restore the trumpeter swan population,” said Kemmerer, who has been a wildlife biologist on the Mississippi River for 11 years. While Kemmerer said he has seen a few Trumpeters over the last decade, their numbers are beginning to really increase locally. However, that was not always the case. It was determined in 1933 that there were only about 70 individuals left in North America due to habitat loss and overhunting. That is a far cry from the 50,000-plus animals estimated today. That comeback is credited to aggressive conservation practices and protective measures put in place.

With breeding activity now occurring in Iowa, it may be just a matter of time until they are fully established once again. Overall, this is one of the great success stories of bringing back an animal that was on the brink of extinction.

World Outdoors columnist Jeremiah Haas can be reached at


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