This spring has brought positive signs for the Blackfoot Trumpeter Swan Restoration Project. At least five pairs have established or returned to territories here in the valley. Other swans have returned and may be in the process of setting up new territories in the area. The only pair known to successfully raise young last summer and migrate south with them last fall was sighted in southwestern Montana this winter, and the family of 2 adults and 2 surviving cygnets returned to the Ovando area in March, along with many other swans.
Several unbanded swans have also been sighted here this spring. These are very likely swans that hatched here in the Blackfoot in 2011 and 2012 and have been returning from their wintering locations each year. Although they don’t have bands, each year since the first cygnets hatched in the valley we have seen them return in the spring with their parents. Although positive identification can’t be made once they have their adult plumage, it’s highly likely that at least most of the unbanded swans we now see are those first generation Blackfoot trumpeters. In fact, some of those are old enough that they may begin to set up territories of their own this year, and we could have a second generation hatching here in the next year or so!
One change to the Swan Restoration Project this year is in the release of young birds. Due to variation in the availability of the swans raised in captivity, this year we will have cygnets rather than 1-year-old swans to release. Because these younger swans will be more vulnerable to mortality without adults to guide and protect them, especially before they can fly, they won’t be released into the wild until early this fall. That will give them time to grow bigger, stronger, and wiser before being on their own. There is a good chance that after their release they will join up with older Blackfoot swans, giving them opportunities to learn from them before beginning migration later in the fall.
The Blackfoot Swan Release will be in early September this year. Stay tuned for a specific date as more information becomes available. And in the meantime, don’t forget to look for the big white birds in local wetlands and turn your sightings in to the Blackfoot Challenge or enter them online at www.blackfootchallenge.org/SwanProject!