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By Elaine Caton
Education and Swan Program Coordinator, Blackfoot Challenge 

Trumpeter swans in the Blackfoot keep rising to the challenge!

 

December 6, 2018

Elaine Caton

A trumpeter swan spreading its wings for the first time in the wild at the Blackfoot Challenge's annual Trumpeter Swan Release.

It may seem far away now, but we all remember the wet, chilly days of last spring and the water that seemed to be everywhere as streams overflowed when the snow melted. Those conditions made it challenging for the trumpeter swans that, with help from many concerned landowners and others, have been trying to make a comeback in the Blackfoot Watershed. At least one nest site was under water for weeks, making it impossible for the swans to nest. And eggs or young cygnets in other nests may have gotten too chilled to survive.

Trumpeter swans must incubate their eggs for around 34 days in May and June and it can be tough to make sure those eggs stay at the right temperature the entire time, since the female swans must get off the nest occasionally to feed. (While the males of some bird species will share incubation duties with the females, in most waterfowl the incubation is solely the job of the females.) As long as it is not too hot or too cold, they can leave the nest for short lengths of time by covering their eggs with nesting material and downy feathers. This insulates the eggs from the weather and hides them from potential predators. It's likely that in a cool, wet spring there will be times when that strategy fails to keep the eggs warm enough.

In spite of these difficulties, however, Blackfoot trumpeters managed to produce a good number of young and build on the success of past years. Eleven cygnets from five nests survived to fly this past fall. Nests are spread throughout wetlands in much of the upper and middle watershed, from Lincoln to Clearwater and Placid Lake, with territories even farther up the Clearwater. The nest sites and other areas important to swans are on a mix of private and public lands.

Chris Boyer

Trumpeter swan family photo taken during an aerial survey this summer.

Another good sign of the progress of swan restoration is the number of swans that return to the watershed in spring; each year we see more swans spending the summer here. These are a combination of the captive-raised swans that have been released in the Blackfoot, young swans that were hatched here and individuals from other areas that follow Blackfoot swans back to the watershed.

In the summer of 2018 we had over 60 trumpeter swans residing in the watershed! Sighting these magnificent birds in one of our lakes or pothole wetlands is a great reward for all those who have contributed to the restoration and conservation of swans and their habitat in the Blackfoot.

To learn more about the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project at the Blackfoot Challenge, visit http://www.blackfootswans.org.

 

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