Large and elegant, these white-as-snow water birds attracted the attention of 19th century hunters, who nearly drove them extinct as they pursued them for their meat, feathers, and skins. Captive breeding programs, including a major one at the Minnesota Zoo, helped bring them back from the brink.
What They Eat
Adult swans forage for aquatic vegetation with their heads underwater. Cygnets (baby swans) eat insects and other invertebrates.
Where They Live
Trumpeter swans thrive in the shallows of sheltered freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds.
What They Do
Long necks make it easy for trumpeter swans to forage on the abundant vegetation available below the surface of shallow lakes and ponds. Migration allows them to tap the resources of different locations at different times of the year.
How They’re Doing
Trumpeter swans have undergone a heartwarming comeback since being eliminated from Minnesota in the 1800s. Thanks to captive breeding programs and habitat protection efforts, the trumpeter swan population is now estimated to be about 5,500 birds in Minnesota with more than 35,000 across the continent/hemisphere.
- The trumpeter swan gets its name from its boisterous honk, which sounds like a trumpet or French horn.
- A trumpeter swan’s neck is as long as its body. It allows the bird to reach plants far beneath the surface of the water, and provides room for the body parts needed to produce the bird’s signature call.
- Trumpeter swans are the largest swans and among the world’s largest birds.
- Male swans are called cobs and females are called pens. The young are called cygnets.
- Trumpeter swans use their two eyes independently.
- A trumpeter swan’s nest mound may be up to 12 feet in diameter – the size of the free-throw circle on a basketball court.
- Trumpeter swans have been known to live more than 24 years.
- Trumpeter swans are very sensitive to lead poisoning from ammunition they find when foraging for food.
Hunted extensively for feathers, meat, and sport, trumpeter swans were extirpated from Minnesota in the late 1800s. Reintroduction efforts began in 1966. Today Minnesota is home to more than 5,500 trumpeter swans.
A century ago, hunters killed many trumpeter swans for feathers, skins, and meat. By 1884, trumpeter swans were no longer found in Minnesota, and by the 1930s only 69 trumpeter swans lived in the lower 48 states. In 1966, Hennepin Parks began breeding trumpeter swans. In 1980 the Minnesota Zoo received a breeding pair from Hennepin Parks and signed an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to help reintroduce swans to Minnesota.
In the 1980s, the DNR collected eggs from Alaska swans and raised the young in Minnesota. By 2011, the Minnesota Zoo had raised and released 181 swans. More than 35,000 swans now fly free, including more than 5,500 in Minnesota. The trumpeter swan was officially removed from the Federal list of Endangered and Threatened species in 1999, but it is still listed as Threatened in Minnesota.
Though the trumpeter swan is legally protected from hunting, occasionally adults are shot. Young trumpeter swans are susceptible to lead poisoning.
Things the Zoo's Done/Doing
The Minnesota Zoo began working with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in 1980 to restore trumpeter swans to Minnesota. The Zoo acquired three pairs of swans and began breeding them to produce young that could be released into the wild. Young adult swans were released periodically beginning in 1986. All told, the Minnesota Zoo has raised and released more than 181 trumpeter swans into the wild.