I stopped at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming hoping to see bugling elk in the time-honored tradition of fighting for the right to mate with as many lovely cow elk as possible. I saw not one elk, but I did see some geese and ducks. While reviewing the photos I had taken – which cuts into my actual photography time mind you and which I questioned whether or not I should be doing – a family of HUGE trumpeter swans flew by.
They were “trumpeting” their arrival, and of course I was quite excited. I had just heard on Wyoming Public Radio that the National Elk Refuge had four breeding pairs of these striking birds, and among them had fledged ten cygnets. Here was 25 percent of that population right in front of me.
This pair had three of the ten youngsters the refuge counted.
They were hunted to near-extinction in the early 20th century (as were many of our beautiful birds) but have made a comeback and are considered to be relatively common today. However, they are a species of special concern in Wyoming. Here is what the National Elk Refuge website says about them:
Passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 gave protections to trumpeter swans and other birds and helped curb illegal killing.
In 1932, fewer than 70 trumpeters were known to exist worldwide, at a location near Yellowstone National Park. This led to the establishment of Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in 1935, which is located in Montana’s Centennial Valley and is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Nearly half of the known trumpeter swans in 1932 were found in this area. Over the years, the Red Rock Lakes refuge flock served as an important source of breeding birds for reintroduction efforts in other parts of the country.
Trumpeter swans are presently classified as a Priority 1 Species of Special Concern by the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, a regionally sensitive species by the US Forest Service, and of great interest to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Greater Yellowstone region is home for the Tri-State subpopulation of trumpeter swans and is the largest breeding area for swans in the lower 48 states. In spite of harsh winter conditions, swans often both breed and winter in the region.
When they take off in flight they need to “run” across the water as they beat their wings on the water to gain momentum and lift. It’s quite a noisy affair!
One of the parents had already flown to a location away from the road and gawking birders, and the rest of the family was enroute to join him/her. Here’s a short slide show of the takeoff.
To learn more about trumpeter swans and to see their breeding and migration territory, see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s site. You can also hear their unique trumpeting calls.
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