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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you would like to report a swan sighting please click here or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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