A record number of swans are calling southwest Wyoming their winter home, giving biologists and conservationists something to trumpet about. Aerial counts by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department have spotted more than 300 swans, trumpeter swans to be exact, spending the winter months on or near the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge.
That’s considered a huge recovery for the species, which was hunted almost to extinction in the early 1900s for their meat and feathers.
“A lot of people put a lot of energy into bringing trumpeter swans back in Wyoming, and it has been rewarding to watch that happen,” Refuge project leader Tom Koerner told The Casper Star Tribune. “They are an iconic species. You don’t have to convince people to like trumpeter swans, they are cool birds and most people can instantly recognize them and know them.”
The swans once inhabited areas as far north as Alaska and as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, but as their numbers dwindled, the birds died out everywhere except for a small population in Yellowstone.
The Swan Resurgence
Slowly trumpeter swans regained their numbers, thanks in large part to conservation efforts in 1935 and the setting aside of Montana’s Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Another swan stronghold developed in the Snake River drainage area near Jackson, Wyoming. But researchers knew that the swans would have to expand their territory; the current ecosystems weren’t viable for a fully recovered population.
A New Trumpeter Swan Family
So between 1992 and 1993, biologists moved 64 swans to the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. All but one female, an easily identifiable bird with yellow legs instead of the standard black (due to a genetic mutation), left the refuge. But this one swan would be the mother of a new flock. When biologists brought in more swans to the refuge area two years later, this female paired with a male and they made a nest.
In the coming years, she would give birth to 35 young swans. Those birds, in addition to those who stayed during later transplant efforts, have led to the trumpeter swan species’ expanding numbers.
“Our range expansion program in the Green River is a huge success for swans,” said Susan Patla, nongame biologist with the Game and Fish Department. “They’re a much more secure population than they were 20 years ago.”