MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Now back from the brink, trumpeter swans are not hard to find in Minnesota — but there was a time when it was impossible.
These birds have bounced back dramatically over the past few decades, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about the majestic creatures.
By the late 1800s, these birds disappeared from most of the United States because of hunting and loss of habitat.
“Feathers were used for writing utensils, hats and all that kind of stuff,” said David Andersen, Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Leader.
In the ’60s, Three Rivers Park District re-introduced the birds from Montana. In the ’80s, the Department of Natural Resources brought down eggs from Alaska.
“Our goal back in the early 1980s was to have a population of 350 trumpeter swans,” said Lori Naumann, Nongame Wildlife Program Information Officer.
Things took flight from there.
“In the last 15 years, they have really taken off and now there are probably 30,000 of them in Minnesota,” Andersen said.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota are putting tracking devices on 40 swans across the state — they’ll monitor them for three to four years hoping to learn about migration, habitat and mortality risks.
“Some of the practical outcomes are things like knowing where they go and what areas they frequent so that those areas could be identified for protection,” Anderson said.
Hunters and things left behind by them, like led bullets and fishing tackle, are still the swan’s largest threat.
“Tiny little pieces of led is enough to kill a giant trumpeter swan,” Naumann said.
Some also see the swans themselves as the threat.
“Recently they’ve been showing up in some rice lakes on tribal land,” Andersen said.
However you see it, researchers say it’s time to get to know these resilient and majestic creatures.
“They’re an iconic wildlife species,” Andersen said.
If you see the swans with trackers on their necks you can report their location to help researchers.
To donate to DNR nongame wildlife fund, click here.