Huge, snowy white and graceful trumpeter swans were common migrants in Arkansas 100 years ago. Today they’re extremely rare winter visitors. An alliance of public and private groups hopes an experiment will help bring them back.
Trumpeter swans were released at Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge along the Arkansas River, a few miles downstream from Dardanelle and in the Boxley Valley area of the Buffalo River in northcentral Arkansas. The hope is these young swans will return to both areas in winter and, within a few years, bring their families.
Biologists from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission were on hand when the big birds from Iowa were released. Trumpeters may weigh up to 35 pounds and have 8-foot wingspans.
The process behind the release is called “reverse migration imprinting.” The idea is to bring south young birds that never have migrated and let them use their instincts to return to Iowa.
“These young-of-the-year birds will be brought south and we’ll see if they can get back,” said Karen Rowe, AGFC nongame migratory bird program coordinator. “We need a place that’s not hunted, yet waterfowl-friendly.”
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is conducting a trumpeter swan survey to determine where these birds are wintering in Arkansas. If you have sighted trumpeter swans in your area, please take time to complete this survey.
There are three species of swans in North America. The trumpeter swan (Cygnusbuccinator) and tundra swan (C. columbianus) are indigenous, while the mute swan (Cygnus olor) is a Eurasian species that has been introduced and now breeds in the wild in some areas. All three are very large all-white birds. Click here for the Trumpeter Swan Society's swan identification page.
Trumpeter swans are increasing in Arkansas, and they are the focus of a multi-agency experimental program in parts of the state apart from little Magness Lake just east of Heber Springs, where they have been wintering since the early 1990s.
Some questions and answers from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission:
Are trumpeter swans an endangered species?
In the 1960s, when the Federal Endangered Species Act came into being, the trumpeter swan was considered for this list. At about the same time, a nesting population of about 2,000 trumpeters was discovered in Alaska. The species was then taken off the consideration list. However, various states list the trumpeter as either state-threatened or state-endangered.
What is a male swan called, a female swan?
A male is called a cob. The female is called a pen and the young of the year are called cygnets.
What do trumpeter swans eat?
Adult swans eat aquatic vegetation, including the leaves, seeds and roots of many types of pond weeds. In captivity, swans will eat corn and other grains provided. Wild swans have also adapted to field feeding, eating leftover grains and vegetables that have been harvested by farmers.
How many eggs do trumpeter swans lay?
They lay, on the average, three to eight eggs. Only one clutch of eggs is laid per year. The swans build their nests out of stems and leaves from plants such as cattails and sedges. Trumpeters often nest on top of muskrat or beaver lodges.
How big are trumpeter swans?
They are the largest waterfowl in North America, weighing 25 to 30 pounds. Wing span is about 8 feet. In comparison, the giant subspecies of Canada geese living in Arkansas weigh about 12 pounds. Snow geese weigh about 7 pounds.
Where can I see trumpeter swans in Arkansas?
The established viewing area is at Magness Lake, a small oxbow off the Little Red River, east of Heber Springs.
Will trumpeter swans run off the geese from my lake or pond?
Only a mature, mated territorial nesting pair of trumpeters will chase off (they might even kill) geese and other waterfowl in their nesting marsh. However, this aggressive behavior is usually only exhibited during the nesting season - March through October. At other times of the year, the swans will readily flock with the geese. Young swans or two swans of the same sex will not be as aggressive and generally will readily tolerate geese and other waterfowl at any time of year. Captive swans need open water year round and will need to be fed during the winter months, which could attract waterfowl. Early in the season, a trained dog may be more effective to chase geese off the lawn. However, once the geese begin nesting, they are protected under Federal Migratory Bird law and may not be harassed. In order to discourage geese and promote healthier wetlands, it is best to keep a good natural buffer around the pond, allow grass to grow long, and plant shrubs. Geese do not like to eat long grass. They love to eat freshly mowed grass. A fence barrier between your lawn and the lake should also discourage them. Geese prefer a clear runway to the pond and a clear view to spot potential predators. Finally, encourage your neighbors not to feed geese.