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 of extinction.
What They Eat
Long necks make it easy for trumpeter swans to forage on vegetation below the water’s surface. Adult swans mainly eat leafy parts, stems, seeds and tubers of aquatic plants. Cygnets (baby swans) eat insects and other invertebrates.
Where They Live
Trumpeter swans thrive in shallow areas of sheltered freshwater lakes, rivers, ponds and marshes. They prefer habitat with abundant water vegetation.
What They Do
Swans typically stay with the same mate for their lifetime, returning to the same area year after year to nest. Trumpeter swan nests can be quite large – up to 18 inches high and 6-12 feet across. It may take a pair of swans up to two weeks to construct their nest mound near shore. The female sits on the eggs, while the male patrols the surroundings. Once the cygnets hatch, the male will help care for them and the family unit will remain together for about a year.
How They’re Doing
Trumpeter swans have experienced 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 contain over 17,000 birds in Minnesota, and more than 63,000 across North America.
- 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 aids in producing the swan’s signature call.
- Trumpeter swans are the largest species of swan and are among the world’s largest birds.
- Male swans are called cobs and females are called pens. The young are called cygnets.
- Cygnets and juvenile trumpeter swans have light gray feathers. They attain their white adult plumage during their second winter.
- A trumpeter swan’s nest mound may be up to 12 feet in diameter – the size of the center circle on a basketball court!
- Trumpeter swans have been known to live more than 30 years.
- Trumpeter swans are sensitive to lead poisoning from hunting ammunition that they find when foraging.
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 17,000 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 (now called Three Rivers Park District) 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.
Throughout the 1980s, the DNR collected eggs from Alaskan trumpeter swans and raised the young in Minnesota.
By 2011, the Minnesota Zoo had raised and released 181 trumpeter swans. More than 63,000 trumpeter swans now fly free across North America. The trumpeter swan was officially removed from the Federal list of Endangered and Threatened species in 1999, but it is still listed as a Species of Special Concern in Minnesota.
Although the trumpeter swan is legally protected from hunting, occasionally adults are shot. Trumpeter swans are also susceptible to lead poisoning from hunting ammunition, and collisions with overhead power lines. You can help the continued conservation of swans and many other animals, such as loons and eagles, by switching to lead-free fishing tackle and ammunition.