Monday, November 03, 2008

Return of the Trumpeters: Part 1

Burlington Bay, Lake Ontario

On the way home from my second trip to Toronto last week I detoured along the shore of Lake Ontario and stopped at Lasalle Park in Burlington ON. Many waterbirds spend the winter here including a large number of Trumpeter Swans. These birds are native to Ontario but were extirpated from the province due to hunting and habitat loss. Biologist Harry Lumsden worked to reintroduce the Trumpeter Swans in the 1980's. The program has been successful and volunteers continue to work to tag and monitor the birds. Harry is now 85 years old but is still very involved with the swans. This day, some of his friends and coworkers were on the shores of Burlington Bay and they filled me in on this story.

Trumpeter Swan Family
Two adults, five cygnets

A family of Trumpeter Swans had been seen at Kirkland Lake Ontario on Monday, October 27th. The tagged adult pair had five cygnets with them. The group arrived on Wednesday, October 29th to Lasalle Park, a 626 km trip almost due south from their nesting area. The volunteers were attempting to capture and tag the five youngsters. A young woman, who is a student at Hamilton's McMaster University, lured the swans in with some food. The adults are accustomed to being fed but these cygnets had not experienced human contact before now.

Checking an adult Trumpeter Swan

It takes skill to capture one of these large birds without injury. One of the volunteers told me that one tagger had suffered three broken ribs when the wing of the swan hit him on his side. They have a sharp claw on each foot which can inflict a nasty cut. Once the swan was restrained, it was quite relaxed, but the rest of the swans carried on with loud trumpeting. The picture above is of an adult that was being checked over because some uncaring people had targeted it with red paint from a gun.

Here is the newly tagged and banded cygnet. It was pecking at the large tags on its wings but was otherwise fine. Its pink beak will be turning black over the next few weeks. Each day the swans will be fed, checked and counted by the committed volunteers.

I returned on Saturday to see the birds again...
more to come...


  1. What great pictures of these absolutely beautiful birds. The banding information is quite interesting.

  2. Swans are symbolic ... most notably surrounding love and weddings (they were prominently featured, two of them, on our wedding announcements ... that one almost forgets that they are real animals ... and originated from somewhere. Really nice post, I didn't realize they were being so closely monitored.

  3. Fed? Are they really fed? Is that just to make it easier to conduct their research?

  4. NCMW- It is nice to get so close to these birds.

    Robert- You may be referring to Mute Swans which are from Europe and are the most common swans in parks and ponds. They have orange beaks. The Trumpeter Swans have black beaks and are much less common in Ontario.

    Laura- It has been a lot of work to reintroduce Trumpeters to Ontario from the two birds they started with in 1989. About 150 birds overwinter in this bay instead of flying across the lake to the USA. They are protected in Ontario but can be hunted across the border. So these birds are fed corn once a day in the winter to keep them in Canada and help them survive even if the harbour freezes over. These are not researchers but truly devoted volunteers.

  5. Lovely story Ruth and I can imagine that they could do some serious damage to a bander. Oh nuts, they can be hunted here in NY state? Sigh....

    You commented about me having ms. I think I had commented that I have been in a special PT program that specializes in neurological rehab as opposed to sports/injury rehab. It really helped me to regain my balance after a bad relapse which left me with some mobility issues. I really should get back to it. But I really admire the PTs and OTs working with ms and stroke patients and I always admired the other patients. Most of us work really hard at improving our skills..

  6. Dedication of nature lovers. Beautiful birds.

  7. Ruth,

    This post is both informative and interesting. I am glad that they cygnet was able to be tagged. These birds are magnificent and I'm so glad that they are making a comeback.

    Thanks so much for sharing your beautiful photos of the swans.

    Have a wonderful week, my friend.

  8. Wow, I had no idea a swan could inflict that much force on someone. Lovely photos.

  9. RW- They are not an endangered bird in a global sense, but like Barn Owls, disappeared from our province.
    I hadn't stored your rehab story in my permanent memory :-( but won't forget it now. Keep up with your exercises!

    Jean- We are caretakers of the earth and these volunteers demonstrate that well.

    Mary- This is such a worthwhile park to visit, very accessible and the trail along the shore is short and scenic.

    Jayne- They really beat those big wings to lift into the air and an unexpected blow can injure for sure.


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