Across North America the Trumpeter Swan populations are divided into three main management areas: Pacific Coast Population (PCP), Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) and Interior Population. Washington State has both the PCP and RMP areas. Western Washington is the PCP and eastern Washington is the RMP.
The map shows these management divisions for Trumpeter Swans in North America.
The Cascade Mountains are a major dividing line for both wintering and breeding Trumpeters. The main difference between the two populations is where they breed. As you can see from the mapped areas in gray, there is some overlap around the northern British Columbia and southern Yukon Territory. A major geographic dividing line is the Yukon River near Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. Read more about each population under their headings: Pacific Coast Population or the Rocky Mountain Population
Pacific Coast Population
More than half of all North American Trumpeter Swans nest, breed, or winter in this geographic area. In 2010, there were about 26,800 Trumpeter Swans in the PCP. Most of these swans winter in western Washington and outhern British Columbia. A few move south in western Oregon or stay a bit farther north in southern Alaska. They migrate north each spring and 95% breed in Alaska, the rest in western Yukon and northwestern British Columbia.
STATUS – Trumpeter Swans
The most recent PCP survey on the Alaska breeding grounds during 2010 found 26,730 Trumpeter Swans: 20,779 adults and 6,011 cygnets. The new 2015 census will be available in mid2016. The mid-winter western Washington Trumpeter Swan Survey showed no increase in the number of wintering Trumpeter Swans. about the same number of The total swans counted in summer 2010 included 25,347 in Alaska and 1,443 in western Yukon and northwestern British Columbia. The PCP increased by 5.5% per year from 1968-2005, and 1.5% per year from 2005-2010. PCP swans winter primarily in southern British Columbia and northwest Washington, with a few in western Oregon, and occasional birds migrating to California and as far east as eastern Idaho.
The major threats facing Trumpeter Swans in the PCP are:
Mortality from lead poisoning caused by ingesting lead shot on wintering areas in both western Washington and British Columbia Mortality from collisions with power lines The increasing importance of agricultural areas has allowed swans to move into new geographic areas, especially where there are dairy farms in western Washington. This has resulted in both a boon for wintering swans in terms of food resources as well as conflicts because in some areas where swans can damage fields during their foraging activities, especially for potatoes and pasture or cover crop grasses. The conversion of waterfowl friendly farming to berry, apple and other types of crops creates a net loss of areas for waterfowl to feed. The impact of climate change on important Alaskan nesting and breeding grounds as interior wetlands dry and permafrost disappears.
ACTION: NWSCA is committed to addressing these important issues. NWSCA’s staff and volunteers have a long history and commitment to addressing lead poisoning in the region.
We are a long time member of the international team working to bring an end to lead shot ingestion by swans in this northwest area. We strongly encourage hunters and anglers to switch to non-lead, nontoxic ammunition and fishing gear. Help “Get the Lead Out”. Partnership with power companies to reduce power line collisions by swans. This includes both private and publically owned power companies. Swan Safe Power Lines is a common goal, it saves swans and reduces costs for the companies with fewer power outages.
Rocky Mountain Population- Washington State
The Rocky Mountain Population (RMP) refers to those swans that winter in eastern Washington, and primarily breed in central and eastern Yukon, Northwest Territory, northeastern British Columbia, Alberta and perhaps as far east as southwest Saskatchewan. The only recent nesting location in Washington is at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge south of Spokane.
Photo by Gerald Plowman
Trumpeters migrate through in both fall and spring, primarily along a corridor that encompasses the area from the eastern foothills of the Cascade Mountains west through the Methow Valley into the Okanagon area and the wide path it creates moving south. Reports of wintering Trumpeter swans have come from the Washington/Canada border lakes/ponds to Cle Elum, Yakima and Walla Walla and points in between.
We will be adding new information on eastern Washington Trumpeter Swans as it becomes available.
Photo by Mary Margaret
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge
Trumpeter Swan history at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge: By the late 1950’s trumpeter swans were nearly extinct in the lower 48 states as a result of overhunting and loss of habitat. The largest remaining population of nesting birds occurred on Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. Birds from this flock were relocated to several areas in the west that historically supported swans. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge was one of the reintroduction sites for trumpeter swans in the 1960’s. From the original introduction of 33 cygnets that took place over 3 years (1963, 1965, and 1966), the refuge population stayed relatively stable through 1976 with spring populations between 27 and 29 birds. Nesting peaked in 1970 with 8 nests. This is the first year that all introduced birds reached breeding age. Peak recruitment occurred in 1975 with 14 cygnets fledged. It was the belief of Jim Reese, refuge biologist in the late seventies, that none of the swans hatched on the refuge returned to breed and that all breeding that occurred was accomplished by the original introduced cygnets.
In 1976, the supplemental feeding and pond aeration program that began in 1968 was discontinued. This program had effectively created a resident flock with no migration behavior. The resulting dispersal of individuals that first winter and a severe drought the following year, resulted in a precipitous decline in the refuge population indicating that wintering habitat in the area is severely limiting. Several birds, mostly juveniles, failed to return at all and were never accounted for by band returns or other observation. Major causes of mortality were shooting, power line collisions, and predation.
Observers noted that for 22 years through 2009, only one trumpeter swan reliably returned to Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge each winter or spring — whenever enough open water was exposed by ice thawing at the headquarters-area ponds.
This bird became known as Solo a lone male Trumpeter. Finally he found love in 2009 and his legacy now lives on in at least 13 swans (as of 2013) and counting. Since then two pairs nested and last year, 2015 only one pair nested successfully. Sadly, Solo died in 2011, likely of lead poisoning from either a lead fishing sinker or lead shot. Solo may have opened the door for the restoration of trumpeters at Turnbull with his efforts in his two successful breeding years. His legacy appears to be continuing with the swans that reside and nest there today.
If you plan to visit the area, nesting swans are likely to be found. Broods usually hatch around Father’s Day.
The Northwest Swan Conservation Association is committed to the conservation of our native swans, both Trumpeter and Tundra, in Washington State and around the northwest region.