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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Return of the Trumpeter Swans

Air Date: Week of

Bill Cohen of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium has this report on the organized release of the majestic white Trumpeter Swan to repopulate the wetlands of Ohio. The birds got their name from their unique brass-sounding cry.


CURWOOD: Back before Colonial times, the Great Lakes was also habitat for thousands of trumpeter swans. And in recent years some have been trying to bring the great birds back. Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario have all had trumpeter swan projects, and now Ohio is trying one, borrowing ideas from its neighbors. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Bill Cohen reports.

(Swans trumpet)

COHEN: Trumpeter swans look majestic, with their white feathers, their 2-foot-long necks, and their 7-foot wingspan. And the unique call that inspired their name.

(A swan trumpets)

COHEN: But the trumpet call of the swan hasn't been heard in Ohio for nearly 300 years. Ohio wildlife official Geedo Torry says humans are to blame.

TORRY: When the French trappers came through and were settling the country, they would trade with the Indians for guns. And Indians and settlers utilized them for food. They were, you know, a huge bird, provided a lot of meat. Unfortunately they took a lot of them, also for the feather trade in Europe, and decimated them.

COHEN: Now, to make sure that wasn't the trumpeter's swan song, wildlife officials are hatching 2 plans. First, they're buying swans from a Michigan animal sanctuary, for release in Ohio during the summers. They'll get accustomed to Ohio by first living at The Wilds, the International Center for the Preservation of Wild Animals in eastern Ohio. The second part of the project...

TORRY: We will fly to Alaska this summer, and collect eggs from wild trumpeter swan nests, bring them back to Ohio where they'll be hatched at the Cleveland Metro Park Zoo. Then they'll be taken to the Wilds and then released in Ohio wetlands when they're 2 years of age. So we hope to release abut 150 swans over the next 5 years. Various wetlands in Ohio, starting with our Great Lakes, Lake Erie wetlands.

COHEN: Ohio is not operating here just on a wing and a prayer. Wildlife officials say they've learned from the successes and failures of other Great Lakes states. And that's why Ohio will be releasing 2-year-old swans into the wetlands: birds old enough to survive. Again, Geedo Torry.

TORRY: The other states, Michigan and Wisconsin and Minnesota got started actually earlier and tried a couple techniques that weren't so successful. They finally got them refined just in time for us to begin, and it's working quite successfully. Michigan now has 14 breeding pairs, and they raised 40 young last year, and their program has basically been a success and they're off and running.

COHEN: The swan project is being funded in part with $80,000 of tax refunds Ohioans have donated back to the state. Wildlife advocates hope the sight of the beautiful swans in Ohio wetlands will convince more people how important the birds' habitats are. Stan Serrells is curator of birds at the Cleveland Zoo.

SERRELLS: This bird is what we call a flagship species for the wetlands habitat. And the wetlands habitat is very important for a large number of species, but unfortunately many times, in order to get the public's interest about wetlands habitat, you need a flagship species. A swan is white, it's large, it's beautiful, it's majestic. And if you care about the swan and do something for its habitat, 60 or 70 other species will benefit.

COHEN: Two trumpeter swans that have already been brought to Ohio for the start of the revival project are attracting the attention of adults and children, and wildlife officials think that's a great entree to educate the next generation about animals and the environment. For Living on Earth, I'm Bill Cohen in Columbus, Ohio.



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