Swan Nesting Project Will Benefit Yellowstone Birds
Photo By Timothy C. Mayo
Trumpeter Swans are one of our region’s most iconic birds. They are the heaviest bird species in North America but their size seems less impressive when compared to their elegance and their charismatic nature. In the Yellowstone region, trumpeter swans can be seen and heard year round in ponds, rivers and streams. These beautiful birds were hunted almost into extinction in this region early in the 20th century but with careful management were brought back to stable and relatively healthy numbers. Unfortunately, the Greater Yellowstone trumpeter swan nesting population is struggling. Biologists are seeing fewer nesting trumpeter swan pairs in our region especially in Yellowstone National Park.
In an effort to increase the Greater Yellowstone population of trumpeter swans, Teton Regional Land Trust has teamed up with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Wyoming Wetlands Society, Trumpeter Swan Society and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to encourage additional trumpeter nesting in the Yellowstone Region and specifically in the Teton Valley.
This unique partnership, with support from the Pacific Flyway Council, seeks to continue protecting important nesting habitat and encourage young trumpeter swans to establish nesting sites in Teton Valley. In late August, a protected wetland on a conservation easement property in in Teton Valley will become home for 5 young trumpeter swans (called cygnets). A foster mother will also be released with the quintet of cygnets to help them learn to feed on their own and to keep them safe. The captive bred cygnets will join wild birds during the fall migration and, with a little luck, will return to their surrogate home in Teton Valley to raise their own young in the future.
A habitat assessment of Teton Valley completed this winter ranked area wetlands for their suitability, seclusion and landowner willingness to participate in the project. Several properties rose to the top of the list and a single property will be selected from the finalists later this spring. It is possible that up to four protected wetland properties will receive swan cygnets in the next 5 years.
”Over the past two centuries many of the wetlands in Teton Valley were drained and much of the beaver population was trapped out. Habitat for nesting swans was mostly eliminated,” Explained Teton Regional Land Trust Executive Director Chet Work. “But over the past 20 years private landowners have recreated wetlands and preserved important habitat with the help of the Teton Regional Land Trust and other conservation groups. These protected private lands now present the best hope to restore our local swan population.”
Trumpeter Swans prefer secluded nesting ponds with enough surface water for them to take off, as well as accessible food, shallow, unpolluted water, and little or no human disturbance. Many of the wetlands associated with properties protected by the Land Trust and local families in the Teton Valley are ideal places to introduce the young swans because of their protection, high quality restored vegetation, wetlands and little disturbance in the surrounding property.
“There has been a tremendous amount of work involved by a number of entities to get to this point,” Drew Reed of the Wyoming Wetland Society explained. “We at the Wyoming Wetlands Society are excited to be releasing swans in Teton Valley.”
The Wyoming Wetlands Society will raise the cygnets in Jackson, WY until they are ready to relocate to the Teton Valley wetland. In late August, the 70-day old cygnets and their surrogate mother will be familiarized with their new home near the Teton River. The expectation is that the newly introduced swans will bond to the wetland creating fidelity to which the birds will return to in years to come and eventually bring their mate to nest and raise their young. This process will take several years of work to provide nesting pairs loyal to Teton Valley but the hope is that we will begin to see the Greater Yellowstone flock of trumpeter swans begin to flourish once again.