Trumpeter Swans in Iowa

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Swans have historically represented nobility, grace and the like and with their history of being owned by royalty or nobility, many people in Europe wouldn’t think twice about eating a swan. That was a delicacy reserved for royalty at Christmas feasts.

Here in Iowa, the last nesting pair of trumpeter swans were documented in 1883. It wasn’t until the reintroduction efforts in 1998 began that the population started to recover.

With trumpeter swans being the largest bird able to fly they have a lot of body and feathers. They can weigh anywhere from 21 to 30 pounds and have over 25,000 feathers on them.

They have a wingspan of 79.9 inches which is almost 6 feet, 7 inches, to be able to hold themselves up. Being that big takes a lot of effort to get off the ground. They need at least a 100-meter runway of open water to get the speed to take off.

In 1998, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) aided in the reintroduction of the trumpeter swan. They had been extirpated, or temporarily extinct, due to the drying of wetlands for agricultural fields and unregulated hunting. The fashion industry took a toll on the swan population as feathered hats and clothing were becoming more popular. Their long flight feathers were also highly sought after as they made great writing quills.

Another factor to their decline comes from unregulated hunting of muskrats and beavers. Every ecosystem has its symbiotic relationships and this one is no different. The trumpeter swan nests on the dens and dams of the muskrats and beavers. With those populations dwindling, so too did the swans. Now, as those populations recover, so do the swans.

After the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 was put in place, the birds were safer from being hunted for commercial purposes. The Iowa DNR started work in 1993 to make sure there were at least 15 breeding pairs of swans in Iowa by 2003. They worked with other states, breeders, and zoos to find trumpeter swans they could help establish a life in the wild.

There has been a total of 1,218 trumpeter swans released since the program began with only 20 released in 2019. The Iowa DNR is focusing on helping the wild populations to thrive rather than to add new numbers of swans brought in and released. In 2019, 55 trumpeter swans attempted to nest in Iowa which is up from 2018 and 2017.

It’s safe to say the trumpeter swan population is on the rise in Iowa reaching almost sustainable levels. We at the Nature Center are proud to aid the swans as we have two who live on our pond year-round. We feed them and keep part of the pond warm during the winter, so they have open water to enjoy and feed in.

Come see our swans in action on our pond! Make sure to give them some space though as they are still wild animals.