Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
By the time sun appeared on the eastern horizon, I had counted a total of 15 trumpeter swans sitting in an open area of the marsh. It was the largest number of trumpeters I’ve ever seen there, a vivid reminder of the ongoing success of Iowa’s swan recovery.
With snow white plumage, weights exceeding 30 pounds, and a wingspan of eight feet, trumpeter swans are spectacularly impressive birds. Once common across state, the species declined rapidly at settlement and had completely disappeared here by the mid-1880s. The huge waterfowl weren’t faring better elsewhere either. By the 1930s, less than 70 of the birds remained in the entire U.S.
In 1993, the Iowa DNR began a trumpeter swan recovery program which involved the release of captive reared young birds with a target goal of establishing 15 free flying nesting pairs by 2003. Many of those released birds survived and in 1998, the first modern-day wild pair successfully nested in eastern Iowa.
Today, wild trumpeter swans are reclaiming historic wetland nesting areas statewide and have become an increasingly common summer resident. There are currently around 50 swan pairs nesting statewide and Iowa marshlands are richer for their presence.