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Trumpeters Successful at Tamarac

Reprinted from the Summer 2006
Tamarac Interpretive Association- Tamarac Highlights

One of the highlights of visiting Tamarac is the beautiful sight of trumpeter swans. Sadly, this wasn’t always the case. By the late 1800’s trumpeters had completely disappeared from Minnesota. Swans were hunted for their beautiful white feathers, their skins and meat. Habitat was also disappearing as settlers moved across North America. By the 1930s only 69 remained in the lower 48 states, living in the remote Red Rock Lakes area in southwestern Montana.

It was during the 1960s that restoration efforts began. The Hennepin County Park Reserve District obtained 40 swans from Red Rock Lakes to establish a breeding flock. For the first time in 80 years, swans were nesting in Minnesota.

In 1982, the Department of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Program joined the effort to restore trumpeters to Minnesota. During the next three years, they acquired eggs from Red Rock Lakes and LaCreek National Wildlife Refuges, the Minnesota Zoo and Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo. From 1986-1988, the DNR was also able to collect over 50 eggs from Alaska and reared those young at Minnesota’s Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area. In the spring of 1987, 21 two-year-old swans were released at Tamarac. In 1994, 38 more were released in Becker (including the refuge), Itasca and St. Louis Counties.

With a total release of 350 swans, Minnesota now has more than 2000 individuals. Trumpeters continue to do well as we have again set a record productivity on the refuge. In 2005, a total of 80 cygnets were produced from 14 pairs.  A total of 17 breeding pairs/nests were documented by refuge biologists Lowell Deede and Wayne Brininger, but a few nests failed to produce cygnets. Deede and Brininger are predicting the number of cygnets produced in 2006 to be lower, but Tamarac continues to be one of the premier trumpeter swan production sites in the lower 48 states.

So, as you observe these graceful images of beauty on the refuge, think about the effort, dedication and support that went into restoring a part of Minnesota’s natural history.

Trumpeter Trivia:

  • Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl species in North America. They can weigh 20-30 pounds, can measure up to 5 feet long and have a wingspan of up to 8 feet.
  • Adults are pure white with black bills and feet.
  • Males (cobs) and females (pens) mate for life and begin nesting when they are 4 years old. Their mound-shaped nests consist of marsh vegetation and can measure 6-12 feet across and 18 inches high.
  • Adult nesting swans can be very aggressive and will defend territories up to 100 acres against predators and other swans.
  • Pens will lay a clutch of 5-7 eggs in late April.
  • The young will hatch after 35 days of incubation. These ‘cygnets’ are light gray in color and will eat aquatic insects and crustaceans for the first few weeks of life. By three months, they will feed on aquatic vegetation. When they reach 4 months of age, they will be ready to fly – just in time before freezing temperatures set in.
  • Trumpeters will winter in the central United States in open water areas along the Mississippi River in Arkansas and Missouri and west to Oklahoma. (In Minnesota, a good place to view swans is on the Mississippi near the Monticello Power Plant.)
  • In the spring, the one-year-old cygnets will return with their parents to nesting sites only to move out on their own.

Tamarac Interpretive Association, 35704 Co. Hwy. 26, Rochert MN 56578-9638