Minnesota researchers launch trumpeter swan study

Baihly Warfield
Updated: July 16, 2020 06:21 PM

A few decades ago, you couldn't find a trumpeter swan in Minnesota. But since the 1960s, the population has grown from 0 to more than 30,000.


David Andersen, a University of Minnesota researcher, called it a "conservation success story." 

In the late 1800s, the birds would be shot so people could pluck their feathers for quills and sell their pelts. The population was basically eradicated.

In the 1960s, wildlife experts brought some swans over to Minnesota from Red Rock Lakes in Montana. And in the '80s, eggs from Alaska were brought to Minnesota to hatch. 

Now, the Minnesota DNR and its partners have launched a new study about trumpeter swans. One thing they hope to learn is migration patterns. 

"Large birds, in particular, kind of learn how to migrate from their parents and other birds. So these birds were dropped in here without anybody to show them where to go and how to survive the winter," Andersen said. "So they've kind of had to figure it out for themselves."

Andersen, who works with the Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, suspects there may be genetic influences. 

"The birds that came from Montana didn't really migrate long distances, and the birds that came from Alaska do," he said. 

Swans are scattered around the Twin Cities metro and especially lakes country, around cities like Detroit Lakes and Bemidji. They can also be seen in northeastern Minnesota. 

Researchers have been capturing and fitting swans with neck collar transmitters at various locations across the state. The collars each have a different code on them with one letter and one number. Those will help engage the public too. 

"We are asking people who see those to report those to us through our website because we can learn some more things about swans that way, things we can't just get from their location like who are they with, what are they doing, and those sorts of things," Andersen said. 

If there's a collared bird that frequents a lake or pond near you, you can also go online and track where it's been. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Three Rivers Park District and Trumpeter Swan Society are also collaborating. 

Minnesotans who contributed to the Nongame Wildlife Income Tax Checkoff on their yearly tax forms have helped fund the re-establishment of trumpeter swans in the state. 

The study is funded through the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others. 


Baihly Warfield

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