Cygnets Take to the Air

Another milestone came in the Blackfoot Trumpeter Swan Reintroduction Program this month, as the cygnets hatched last spring began to fly.

A pair of swans that nested in the Ovando-Helmville area hatched out an amazing 6 eggs this year.  One cygnet disappeared shortly after hatching, but the remaining 5 survived into October.  The family began to be sighted at various wetlands in the area by local human residents in early October.  However, only 4 of the cygnets have been seen with their parents since leaving the wetland where they were hatched.  At this point we don’t know if the fifth cygnet is still alive and just not flying yet, became separated from the rest of its family somehow, or has died.

A pair that nested northwest of Ovando has 2 cygnets, and this family has been seen visiting new wetlands in the area as well.  Having at least 6 more cygnets reach the point of flying is an important boost to our local swan population.

The groups of young swans released last spring and summer have scattered into the valley now that they can fly, some joining up with older pairs to explore new wetlands.  With the first real snowfall of the season, the large white birds have become a little harder to spot!


Remember, you can see an interactive map of where Blackfoot swans have been most recently sighted at the Adopt-A-Swan website and follow the movements of individual swans there as well.

Thanks very much to everyone who has reported their sightings!

Swans on the move

During the summer months, Trumpeter Swans in the Blackfoot were pretty stationary.  Newly released young swans have had the feathers on their wings clipped, so that they stay near their release point for a couple of months after release.  This increases the chances that they will become attached to the area and return the following years, eventually establishing a territory and breeding.   They molt and grow new feathers over the summer, so they are able to start flying in late summer.  Like most waterfowl, adult swans that have returned to the Blackfoot lose the ability to fly for a few weeks when they molt in mid-summer.  A pair of swans will generally return to the wetland where they molted to breed in future years.

So during the middle of the summer the Blackfoot swans were pretty easy to keep track of.  Occasionally some of them would take a “walkabout” to a nearby wetland, which could be a potentially dangerous journey exposing them to predators.  But this year all the young swans stayed close to their new homes and survived any short terrestrial journeys they did make.  On my summer rounds to check on them, I was always relieved when I found them safe and sound where I had last seen them!

Now, however, they have all learned to fly and most of the 15 young birds released this spring have moved off their release sites.  Tracking them down can be both fun and challenging.  Some days I am able to find many of them simply by driving to some local lakes and wetlands, but lately I’ve been spending more time hiking around to look for them.  After checking on a map or Google Earth for wetlands tucked away in the valley, I head out across the prairie or through the woods.  It’s always a thrill to tromp through the sagebrush and bunchgrass and come over a hill to see swans in a pond below me.  I quickly set up my spotting scope and read the codes on their red collars.  While they usually see me and watch alertly, I stay far enough away so that they don’t try to fly off.  Often they will resume feeding or preening after a few minutes of watching me, apparently deciding I’m not too dangerous.  They must recognize me after seeing me every week, even though I don’t wear a large identifying collar!

How many swans can you find in the above photo? (Hint: check out the closeup view through the spotting scope in the photo below. Count necks, not bodies!) There are 3 swans on the left side of the photo above and 3 on the right.