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Trumpeter SwansCelebrating 40 years of protecting Wisconsin's natural heritage

Listen to WPR

Catch DNR avian biologist Sumner Matteson and retired biologist Randy Jurewicz on The Larry Meiller Show live from 11-11:45 April 25 on these WPR Ideas Network stations or online. If you miss the show, you can still listen to the archives

Comeback Champ

Mary and Terry Kohler of Sheboygan are the Comeback Champs for April for their critical role in helping re-establish trumpeter swans in Wisconsin.

In 1989, the Kohlers heard from then-Governor Thompson that the DNR needed help to collect up to 50 Alaskan Trumpeter Swan eggs allowed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Representing the Windway Capital Corporation, the Kohlers used their considerable experience and expertise as private pilots to fly DNR biologists to and from Alaska for nine years! And what a difference it made: Of 385 eggs collected by Wisconsin biologists and transported by the Kohlers during 1989-1997, 356 or 92 percent hatched at the Milwaukee County Zoo. The Kohlers' support did not end with the Alaskan egg collections. They provided key financial support for over a decade that allowed DNR biologists to monitor the state's growing flock.

Trumpeter Swans

Thanks to the state endangered species act and a public-private partnership, trumpeter swan populations are recovering in Wisconsin.

Trumpeter swans rising

Trumpeter swans have a lot to blow their horn about! Market hunting and demand for their feathers brought these birds to near-extinction by the 1880s. A century later Wisconsin placed them on the state's endangered species list and in 1987, launched a recovery effort that collected eggs from the wilds of Alaska, hatched them at the Milwaukee Zoo, and reared the young in captivity and in the wild before they were released. The plan was carried out by DNR wildlife managers, technicians, and research scientists, together with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and scores of organizations and citizens.

Trumpeter swans doubled the recovery goal of 20 breeding pairs by 2000, and were removed from the state endangered species list in 2009. Today, the number stands at a modern all-time high of nearly 200 nesting pairs in 23 counties.

Get involved

Report trumpeter swans
Help us keep tabs on this still rare bird by reporting your sightings! Our online Trumpeter Swan Observation Report makes it quick and easy to provide such valuable information.

Help build their nest egg

A direct contribution to the Trumpeter Swan Fund or to the Endangered Resources Fund helps recover costs associated with restoring, protecting and monitoring the bird.

Fast Facts

Scientific name: (Cygnus buccinator):
The trumpeter swan is the largest waterfowl species native to North America, with a wingspan over 7 feet and a total height of 4 feet. Most trumpeters weigh 21-30 pounds, although large males may exceed 35 pounds.

Identifying marks:
Adults have all white plumage and a black bill with a narrow, salmon-red stripe. Young trumpeters are sooty gray with black-tipped, pink bills until they're about a year old.

Habits and habitats:
Trumpeter swans arrive on their Wisconsin breeding grounds in late March or early April and leave in mid-to-late fall for wintering grounds in southern Illinois, Missouri, and Indiana, although several pairs overwinter argely near Hudson. Trumpeter pairs mate for life and build their 6-foot diameter nests in mid-April on top of muskrat or beaver lodges or on mounds of emergent vegetation. The female lays up to 9 eggs between late April and early May. The cygnets hatch in June and spend the rest of the summer preparing to migrate with their parents to ice-free streams and ponds. Ideal habitat for trumpeters include shallow wetlands in isolated areas away from human disturbance.

Adults feed on the stems and tubers of aquatic plants such as arrowhead, bur reed, bulrush, sedges, wild rice, water milfoil, and a favorite, sago pondweed, whose seeds aid in digestion. Cygnets feed on aquatic insects and plants and then shift to a wetland plant diet by age 4 weeks.

Fun Fact:
If a pair uses the same nesting location two summers in a row, they form an almost unbreakable attachment to the site.

Find photos and more detailed information on DNR's trumpeter swans web page.

Places to Go

The best time to see and hear trumpeter swans is during spring or fall migration, and from from mid-July to early September, when adults and their young are out and about, before the young have fledged. Most nests are in northwestern Wisconsin. Try these spots:

Crex Meadows Wildlife Area
Just north of the Village of Grantsburg in Burnett County, Crex Meadows boasts Wisconsin's largest remaining pine barrens, with rare sedge marshes and brush prairie habitats that attract trumpeter swans and scores of other birds.

Sandhill Wildlife Area
Sandhill Wildlife Area is located one mile west of Babcock in southwestern Wood County. Enjoy the 14-mile long Trumpeter Trail, a 14-mile auto tour with stops showing how the forces of people and nature affect wildlife and their habitat.