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.

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