Tagging Trumpeters

by Pamela R. Higgins

Trumpeters landing at Lasalle Park                                          Photo by Pamela R. Higgins

It is January 12th and photographer’s Ann Brokelman, Donna Hayes and myself are finishing up a day of birding and bird photography at  LaSalle Park in Burlington, Ontario. Approximately 200 trumpeter swans migrate here from locations such as the Wye Marsh in Midland, North Bay and Gloucester Pool, Ontario.

As I start walking in towards the beach area I am happy to see four familiar faces: Kyna Intini, Julie Kee and Bev and Ray Kingdon) with swan tagging gear in tow heading in the same direction. The four are dedicated members of the Ontario Trumpeter Swan Restoration Group (OTSRP), and licensed experts that catch and tag swans year round primarily at this location.  Winter is a particularly good time for them to catch last year’s cygnets that have migrated here with their parents.

As they set up to tag, I grab a handful of corn and stoop down in front of Brutus, tag H34 and his mate, Amazon, tag E84, and they scoop the corn out of my hand using their bottom beak like a spoon. I know this pair well as they spend their summers at the Wye Marsh where I volunteer.

by Ann Brokelman

Feeding Amazon and Brutus                                               Photo by Ann Brokelman

As I kneel amongst a milling sea of trumpeters, mutes, ducks and geese, I am amazed that the OTRSP, lead by Biologist Harry Lumsden, has brought this species back to a sustainable population of approximately 1,000 in just 31 years. Working with a dedicated team of volunteers and joined by the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre in 1989 they raised trumpeter swan cygnets from eggs flown in from B.C., Alaska and Michigan.

Ready to tag, the group moves out with buckets of corn to lure in the cygnets to shore, and as I talk with Kee, her hand shoots out and grabs the neck of a cygnet. She immediately shifts to hugging the 25 to 30 pound swan with his stomach firmly against her body and his head draping across her back as she walks up to meet Intini.  They change ownership with Intini talking a grasp on the bend in the swan’s wings, thus preventing any injury to either the swan or the handlers, and bring the bird to lie flat on the ground.

Julie Kee straddles the swan.                Photo by Ann Brokelman

Julie Kee straddles the swan                                                         Photo by Ann Brokelman

Kee straddles the swan with her knees on either side on his wings and rolls him onto his back.  His head is now popping out by her boots and his feet in her hands. He is amazingly calm for being confined and he lays his head down wrapping it around the toe of Kee’s boot.

I kneel down beside Kee and ask if I can touch his feet and remark at how soft they are, she agrees and states that their feet were highly sought after to make leather purses in the 1800s.

Checking out the swans foot     Photo by Ann Brokelman

Checking out the swans foot                                                           Photo by Ann Brokelman

That is not an image I can reconcile in my brain anymore than I can accept that we hunted this magnificent species to extirpation in 1886 not only for their feet, but also feathers for hat making and quill pens, skins for powder puffs and also meat.

Kyna Intini and Julie Kee checking the fit of the swans new leg band  Photo by Pamela R. Higgins

Kyna Intini and Julie Kee checking the fit of the swans new leg band                Photo by Pamela R. Higgins

Intini moves in with the tagging kit and takes over holding his feet and Kee starts setting the numbered yellow triangular shaped tags into each wing with what looks like an oversized ear piercing device.

Julie Kee and Kyna Intini releasing the newly tagged swan Photo by Ann Brokelman

Julie Kee and Kyna Intini releasing the newly tagged swan                                Photo by Ann Brokelman

Once done, Kee moves to the side and releases the swan  and he turns over and runs for the water.  The newly tagged swan preens his wings and settles back in with his family who greets him with head bobbing and honks.

Trumpeter Profile  Photo by Pamela R. Higgins

Trumpeter Profile                                                  Photo by Pamela R. Higgins

If you would like to report a swan sighting please click here or email: theholtentwo@rogers.com

Trumpeter Facts:

  • Is the largest swan in the world with a wingspan of up to eight feet.
  • Need open water to feed, bathe and rest.
  • Require a minimum radius of 100 meters for take-offs and landings.
  • Tip upside down to feed off aquatic vegetation (dabbler).
  • Usually do not breed until they are at least four to six years old and typically mate for life.
  • A male is called a cob, a female is a pen and baby a cygnet.

For more information go to:
Trumpeter Swan Society
Ontario Trumpeter Swans Facebook Group
Video of Trumpeter Swan Banding by Bev and Ray Kingdon

This entry was posted in Bird Canada, Bird Conservation Canada, Bird Identification, Canadian Birds, Conservation, Migration, Nature Photography, Waterfowl, Winter Birding in Canada and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Tagging Trumpeters

  1. Jill MacLean says:

    L12 and his/her untagged mate arrived in my friends pond very early June 2013, they stayed for around 5 days. Two swans have been visiting the area for the lat few years….they can’t remember if they were tag but I have asked them to now keep track.

    The pond is located in Caledon on Old Church Road with a closest cross street of Hwy 50 and Old Church.
    I have pictures but can’t add under this address.
    Hope this helps


  2. Donna Burns says:

    Trumpeter Swans are my daughters passion. She is working on her honors thesis on trumpeter swans@ University of Western Ontario. Now she hopes to do her masters she need a prof to take her on.If anybody has any leads please let me know her name is Sara Handrigan

  3. Kyna Intini says:

    You can also report sightings to me at: kynadawn@hotmail.com
    The type of information we would like reported is:
    Location (GPS or bearing and distance to the nearest town)
    Wing Tag number
    Band number (if it is possible to read)
    The number of Trumpeter swans seen (Tagged vs Untagged)
    Number of Cygnets
    We appreciate all reports we receive as they help us better understand the movements of the swans.

  4. Thanks Pat, I am also in awe of the group’s dedication and passion for the trumpeters. The Kingdons have volunteered for over 25 years on the project and Kyna Intini was instrumental in creating the GIS database of trumpeter nesting sites.

  5. Very cool post, Pamela! I never knew that their feet were used to make purses. The facts about the trumpeters are great.

  6. Pat Bumstead says:

    What a great post. I grew up sharing our town parks with trumpeter swans that were always wandering all over the grass and pathways. I know how massive these birds are when you get close to them. Impressed and somewhat awed by Julie’s work!