Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

There have been a lot of Trumpeter Swan sightings in the area the past couple of weeks. Kathy, from Buyck, sent me this photo of a pair on the Vermilion River.

The interesting thing about this photo is that there is a neck band on one of the Swans. That definitely makes it a Trumpeter Swan as they have been re-introducing Trumpeters in the midwestern United States. In fact, you can tell where they were banded by the color of the band.

To monitor the survival and movements of released Swans, Minnesota attaches orange wing tags with black lettering on each bird released. Wisconsin, Hennepin Parks, and Michigan use yellow collars with black characters. Iowa uses red neck bands. This allows individual birds to be identified from a considerable distance. Each bird is also banded with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leg band prior to release. Observations and the recovery of birds provides wildlife managers with valuable data on movements and survival.

It is possible to see 3 different species of Swan in Minnesota. The Trumpeter,Tundra, and Mute Swan can all occur in Minnesota. The 2 native Swans, Trumpeter and Tundra, can be difficult to tell apart. In the Loon, the journal of the Minnesota Ornithologists Union, there was an excellent article written by Carrol Henderson of the MN DNR. The article went into great detail on the differences between the two Swans and how to tell them apart.

The other Swan species, the Mute Swan, would be easy to i.d. compared to the other 2. It’s pretty rare to see a wild Mute Swan in Minnesota. These are the Swans that have been domesticated and are used in ponds for decoration. They’ll have their wings clipped so they can’t fly away, although some have escaped and established themselves in the natural world. The Mute Swan is native to Eurasia, and is considered an exotic in the western hemisphere. Mute Swans are aggressive, mean birds and there are lots of videos on YouTube that demonstrate their belligerent personality. They compete with our native Swans for food and habitat.

One of the best ways to tell the difference between the 2 native Swans is by their voice. If Trumpeters are vocalizing, their calls sound like the horn of an old car. Their honking is very low and loud.

Tundra Swans usually fly in big flocks and when they are overhead they sound like a pack of baying hounds on a hunt. 

Trumpeters are also bigger than Tundra Swans, but that can be difficult to determine if you can’t compare them to one another, or to another bird. Size is relative to its surroundings.

Tundra Swans only migrate through Minnesota on their way to their breeding grounds in the arctic. Most migrate through western Minnesota, not so much over the arrowhead of MN.

Trumpeters breed in Minnesota; all they need is suitable habitat. They like to nest in big, remote wetland areas.

Trumpeter Swan at Crex Meadows

Trumpeter Swan at Crex Meadows

I photographed this Swan at Crex Meadows NWR in western Wisconsin. You can clearly see the number H56 on its neckband. While it’s rather unsightly to put these neckbands on the Swans, tracking banded birds offers a wealth of information to wildlife managers that are working hard to bring these magnificent birds back to their former status. Trumpeter Swans were once common in Minnesota, but were extirpated in the early 1800’s due to market hunting and the millinery (women’s hats) industry. Due to their re-introduction, Trumpeters Swans appear to be thriving once again in Minnesota!

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