Bill Kleinfelder photo
"And over the pond are sailing
Two swans all white as snow;
Sweet voices mysteriously wailing
Pierce through me as onward they go.
They sail along, and a ringing
Sweet melody rises on high;
And when the swans begin singing,
They presently must die."
-- Heinrich Heine
Thankfully the connection between Swans and death is nothing more than a myth. Nonetheless, like all other living creatures, proper management is vital to keeping the species abundant and strong for years to come
It is no wonder these beautiful birds have caught the attention of poets and novelists alike. Their graceful yet majestic bearing and their deep and resonant cries stir our imaginations - and often our affections.
However, it was their beautiful plumage which almost lost them to future generations. The 19th century will forever remain our season of stewardship shame. Many species came close to extinction as they were over-harvested to fill public demand. Quills for pens, powder puffs for the ladies, and fashionable hat decor nearly wiped out this magnificent bird. And then what? Would quills and fashionable hats and down-soft powder puffs have replaced the Trumpeters lost to perpetuity? Hardly!
According to the Trumpeter Swan Society, by the late 1800's Trumpeter Swans were believed to be extinct. Thankfully this was not the case. A small non-migratory group of Trumpeters who lived in several remote mountain valleys in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana had escaped notice. While only two nests were found in Yellowstone in 1919, by 1932, 69 birds were known to live in the area.
Jerry James Photo
There's a double beauty whenever a swan
Swims on a lake with her double thereon.
Certainly if Mr. Hood's lines carry any truth, they must be multiplied one hundred times when one catches these gorgeous birds strutting their stuff!
Restoration efforts progressed slowly. In the early 1930's the federal government established Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (our neighbor) to protect the area's fragile Trumpeter Swan population. The program found success and the late 1950's saw bird numbers rise to about 640 birds.
William Kleinfelder photo
In fact, so confident were their managers of success, 40 swans from the Refuge became the core of mid-west restoration efforts. However, they may have been overconfident as local numbers plummeted from the mid-60's to the mid-80's. By 1986 a mere 392 birds remained.
Studies showed a close correlation between adequate winter food supplies and productivity. Thus for many years the Red Rock swans received supplemental grain to boost their chances of survival.
An adequate supply of open water offering abundant amounts of the necessary aquatic plants is critical for the swan's survival. For this reason, the Trumpeter Swan Society has challenged the Refuge's decision to drain Culver Pond.
The competition for open water can grow stiff as many birds from Alaska and Canada winter on the limited sections of open water available in the Tri-state area. To further complicated matters, while some swans seem to adapt well to bustling human activity (for example the hundreds of swans which spend at least part of the winter on the highway-bordered Snake River in Island Park), others are greatly disturbed by human presence. Thus offering a variety of open water options seems in the swans' best interest.
Today, largely through the efforts of government efforts such as the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and private groups such as the Trumpeter Swan Society, these beautiful birds have made an amazing recovering. It is estimated there are over 17,000 birds populating North America today. This is, undoubtedly, an amazing come back.
Yet, proper oversight is still required lest we do squander our blessings. I cannot imagine anyone privileged to observe these birds in their native habit and going about their everyday lives could walk away untouched by their grace, beauty, and majesty. Surely the Trumpeter Swan deserves continued protection and abundant appreciation.
For as Han's Christian Anderson put it: "Being born in a duck yard does not matter, if only you are hatched from a swan's egg." Yet, without responsible management, the day could come when no swan's eggs remained - - even in the duck yard. May it never be!
Lady of the Lake