The Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) is the heaviest-flying native bird in North America and has an average wingspan of 185 to 250 centimeters. Due to their size, they require around a 100-yard runway to take off. Trumpeter Swans breed in habitats that are open and near shallow water bodies, like the bodies of water in the Arboretum. They spend the winter in estuaries, large lakes and rivers that stay somewhat ice-free year-round. They are called the Trumpeter Swan because of their sonorous calls, which are usually compared to the sounds that a French horn produces. However, due to their beautiful appearance and characteristics, hunters became interested in these animals.
Beginning in the 1600s and continuing into the late 1800s, hunters and feather collectors destroyed multiple Trumpeter Swan populations. The feathers of these swans were used in fashionable hats. Women also utilized the swans’ skins as powder puffs, and, due to the bird’s immense size, its feathers were usually used for writing quills. In the 1900s, the species was almost extinct. The surrounding Yellowstone area of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were the only locations within the lower 48 states where Trumpeters avoided extinction. (More information can be found at thetrumpeterswansociety.org.) Thankfully, beginning in the 1900s, conservation efforts surrounding the swan, such as the founding of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana, helped the population rebound. After this refuge was formed, many steps were taken to help rebuild and maintain Trumpeter Swan populations, like the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff Law. To boost the populations in other areas, eggs were gathered from the swan populations in Alaska and distributed across the United States. As of 2020, the population of these swans is estimated to be over 30,000.
Since spring is near, bird migration is on. So take a walk into the arboretum and see if you can spot a Trumpeter!
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