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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Watch is on for first wild swan nesting since the 1800s

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

BV Swan program in need of funds

Their ultimate goal may be about to take flight.

The Buena Vista County Swan Restoration Committee was founded not to produce pretty ponds full of captive birds, but to produce swans to fly free, and to nest and reproduce here for the first time since 1870.

And for the first time in the program's history, that may happen this spring.

One of the early swans hatched in the program, a five-year-old female produced on a pond near Early and released to the wild the next spring, has hooked up with a wild male bird released by a Spirit Lake program several years ago.

The duo, both fitted with red DNR tracing bands at the time of their release, have been among the best documented in the trumpeter swan anti-extinction program. The two were first seen together last year, migrated together, then were spotted wintering near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They returned to her hatching place this spring.

"They flew in low right over our house - it looked like two World War II bombers coming in," said Mike Griggs, a member of the BV Swan Committee who oversaw the hatching of the female on a pond near his home. "I've seen them several times this spring, and it seems as though we are going to have a wild nesting - a first for our program."

DNR records differ slightly, listing the female's origin as Webster County.

One possible site is the Early city lagoon, although Griggs said he is hoping they choose a better protected rural pond. DNR officials report some typical pre-nesting activity on Kiowa Marsh in that same area.

The birds are young, and Griggs noted that even if they do nest, it could another season before offspring happen. Yet if that pair of lovebirds does what comes naturally, they could prove to be a historic pair.

When Iowa environmental officials first dreamed of returning trumpeter swans to Iowa after virtual extinction for over a century, the goal they set was to eventually have a dozen pairs of birds nesting and successfully breeding in the wild.

Last year, Griggs said, the state documented the 11th pair in Iowa. "They are hoping that this will be the top year, and the year that they realize the goal that they had set from day one to mark success of this program."

Meanwhile, the BV Swan Committee has captured its mated pairs and year-old cygnets from the wintering site on Highway 71, and taken them to their potential nesting sites for the spring season. The five resident mating pairs are located at the Storm Lake Swan Pond, Larson Lake near Aurelia, Gustfason Park at Sioux Rapids, and private ponds in Sac and Cherokee counties. No reports of viable eggs has been made yet, but the swans often produce their eggs in last May to early June.

Cygnets that are deemed strong enough are released to the wild each spring. Recently, two year-old birds were released to the wild near Pickerell Lake in rural Buena Vista County. A third appeared to have an injured or deformed wing, and may have to be retained in captivity.

One of the birds appears to have an injured wing and will probably have to be retained in captivity.

Trumpeter swans, named for their distinctive call, are North America's largest waterbird, with wingspans of up to eight feet. They were native to the Storm Lake region and other prairie pothole environments, but were wiped out shortly after the state was settled, for food, and for their snow white feathers that were made into women's hats that were popular in Europe and to make quill pens.

The birds were long thought to be extinct, until two groups of trumpeters were discovered - one in an isolated area of a western National Park, and the other in a desolate region of Alaska. The bloodlines of all the swans in the restoration programs today reach back to those two populations.

The BV Swan Committee has been working for nearly a decade to repopulate northwest Iowa with the majestic birds. However, the past year has seen the program's treasury depleted, and funds are needed for feed and medical care for the swans.

Donations can be made to BV Swans, Post Office Box 1234, Storm Lake, 50588, or can be dropped off at the Pilot-Tribune office. A limited amount of swan logo clothing is also available through Silk Screen Ink in Storm Lake.

New members are also being sought for the committee, and interested persons can contact Dr. Rick Lampe, Storm Lake, for details.

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