CNN Environment News

Fate of the trumpeter swan swayed by devotion of a few

Swans on Lake

April 11, 1996
Web posted at: 8:15 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Ann Kellan

TORONTO, Canada (CNN) -- Trumpeter swans are dramatic creatures that announce their presence with a cacophony of noise that sounds like many trumpets blowing out-of-sync.

Baby Swan

They once were popular targets for hunters. By the end of the 1920s, the trumpeter swan population had dwindled from a healthy gene pool spread across the United States and Canada to a few hundred concentrated in Alaska, Western Canada, and the American Rockies. Birds were killed at an impressive pace with the introduction of the gun to North America. The swans were killed both by the hunters seeking the trumpeters' meat and feathers and by the lead pellets left behind from shells that missed their target. As few as six lead pellets, which resemble food, can kill the trumpeter swan that eats them.

Now, men such as Harry Lumsden are working to save the trumpeter and reintroduce it to a wider range. Harry is part of the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project and keeps a backyard full of the swans he hopes to mate and reintroduce to southern Canada and beyond.

Lumsden is devoted to the swans not only for their majestic beauty, graceful flight, and distinctive call, but also because he sees them as part of North America's heritage.

Swans with tags

Harry transports swans ready for release into the far reaches of Ontario province, while keeping a watchful eye on young swans still a year away from their trip to freedom. The tags serve as a reminder to the public that the birds are special. Many amateur bird watchers help Lumsden to keep track of his former charges by calling in with locations, and other information, on specific birds.

Al Johnston, a trumpeter enthusiast and volunteer who also works to breed the rare swans, says he finds that he even develops personal relationships, of sorts, with some of his charges.

Lumsden works on trumpeter breeding with the Toronto Zoo, where he delivers swan eggs for incubation. Female trumpeters typically lay six eggs each spring, but can lay as many as 15. Removing an egg from a nest often prompts the trumpeter to lay another one.

Cygnets are the result of a well-incubated egg, and become the responsibility of a loving trumpeter enthusiast until the bird is ready to go out on its own. Humans even get into the business of teaching the birds to fly, but have to draw the line at teaching them how to migrate. Lumsden leaves that to the pull of natural instinct.

Lumsden, a man dedicated to North America's natural heritage, hopes more people will become interested in the plight of the trumpeter swan and animals like it. Lumsden's dream is to see the swans thriving across the continent, as they were 100 years ago.

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