Liz Benneian of the Trumpeter Swan Conservation Society spoke on the amazing recovery of trumpeter swans in Ontario.
These birds -- the largest swans in existence -- were almost hunted out of existence and were extirpated in Ontario by the 1880s. They were hunted for feathers, meat, and leather. The last known original trumpeter swan in Ontario was shot in 1886 in Long Point.
Conservation efforts began in the 1930s when it seemed that only 69 birds remained in existence. An additional group was then found in Alaska. Eggs from that Alaskan group were brought to Ontario by Harry Lumsden, who in the 1980s began a captive breeding program,
That restoration effort has led to great success, and now approximately 1000 trumpeters reside in Ontario.
The Trumpeter Swan Restoration Group continues these efforts, with banding and tagging work that provides data to the University of Guelph.
Those working with the trumpeters also have their stories about particular "famous" swans, and Liz told the Shellbacks about "Pig Pen", the messy-eating swan that was the first trumpeter to nest in Ontario in 100 years, and who was also the first trumpeter to winter at Lasalle Park in Burlington, now the province's premiere overwintering location for these birds. Other stories were of Athena, the nesting female that faced off against a train to protect her nest (to her loss, unfortunately); "The Magics", a pair whose cygnets were separated between Barrie and LaSalle, then reunited; "Cinder", who recovered from a grave neck injury; and others.
Of particular concern now to those working with the trumpeters are losses due to lead poisoning when birds ingest fishing weights and lead shot; fishing injuries from nets and hooks; dangers from power line collisions; and illegal hunting. Habitat loss is perhaps the greatest problem, as exemplified by a proposal for LaSalle Park that would replace a floating breakwall with a permanent one. This project would make the wintering site that the trumpeters use much less hospitable, as the permanent breakwall would lead the water inside to freeze in winter. The swans would then not be able to feed on the aquatic plants that are their primary diet.
The story of trumpeter swan re-introduction is inspiring, and it's now our duty to see that we retain a place in our world for these magnificent creatures that have been brought back from the edge of extinction.
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