Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Pair of swans live at West Bend grotto

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf
agripen@live.com

Date Modified: 10/03/2012 10:15 AM

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WEST BEND, Iowa — Trumpeter swans get their name from their deep, loud, trumpet-like calls.

America's largest native waterfowl was once common across the northern United States and Canada. A demand for their feathers for ladies' powder puffs and fashionable hats hastened their demise.

By the late 1800s, it was thought that the Trumpeter swan was extinct, but 69 nesting pairs were found in Montana. The remnant population was protected on Montana's Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Management, which was established in 1935. Swan numbers rebounded and restoration projects were expanded to include Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Canada.

Minnesota has successfully established a free-flying flock. The states Trumpeter Swan Recovery Program began in 1982.

In 1995, the Grotto of Redemption in West Bend joined in the re-establishment efforts. A pair of Trumpeter swans now live year-round at the pond in a managed environment.

AnnMarie Krmpotich, a wildlife biologist, recently held two educational seminars.

"Swans mate for life," said Krmpotich. "The male is called a cob, the female, a pen and their young cygnets. A normal clutch is five to nine eggs. The cygnets are gray with a pink bill, contrasting with their parents who are white with black bills."

Swans mate for life, often bonding in their second winter. Their first nest generally occurs at three to six years of age. The cob will follow the pen to a breeding spot, often where she was hatched out.

After the cygnets hatch, the pen begins to molt, losing her flight feathers. The molt period lasts about 30 days. The cob then molts. During this time, they are vulnerable to predators. The staggered molt time leaves one parent capable of flying and defending the cygnets.

An adult swan often weighs more than 30 pounds. Standing four feet tall, their wing span is eight feet. Most of their life is spent in the water, she said.

"They are territorial birds," said Krmpotich. "Requiring a minimum of six wetland acres."

They prefer a location that is shallow one to three feet deep, with a mix of vegetation and open water. Baby cygnets' pink bills are now changing to black bills like their parents and they are losing their gray colors. Soon they will be learning to fly by making short flights and practicing daily. If they lived in the wild, they would join their parents in the migratory flight to a warmer climate.

The pair at West Bend have clipped wings.

Their young will be taken south to a location joining other Trumpeters.They will return with their parents come spring, but their parents will drive them out. They live in sibling groups until they find their own mates.