Return of the Swans

Trumpeter Swans released in the Blackfoot in previous years are returning to the valley in good numbers this year! Here is a little information to catch you up on the activities and movements of our Blackfoot trumpeters in the past few months.

Since we have no radio transmitters on any of the Blackfoot swans, we rely on sightings of swans with collars and leg bands to determine their locations. This means that the movements of many of our swans are unknown once they left the watershed last fall to migrate south. However, we’ve been fortunate to have many people in Montana and beyond contact us about several of the birds, including our 2 families raised in the Blackfoot last summer.

Both nesting pairs (9P8 with mate 5P8, and 6P8 with mate 3P6) along with their cygnets from 2011 spent the winter in the Ruby River Valley of Montana, mostly on spring ponds on private ranches that had open water most of the winter. We’ve been very fortunate in the last two years to have Curtis Kruer from the Ruby Valley gather valuable information about our wintering swans for us. I was able to visit the area in February, and it was a kick to see “our” Blackfoot swan families in a totally different part of Montana, appearing healthy and strong. The cygnets had lost much of their gray feathers, and were primarily white but still had quite a bit of gray on their heads and necks. Just like kids—they change every time you see them. 0A6, released in 2010 in the Blackfoot, spent the winter in the Ruby valley also, while its companion from last year, 0A5, wintered in the Clearwater. Both are back in the Blackfoot now.
Blackfoot swans wintering in the Ruby River Valley

Swans 6A0 and 6A1 (released last summer) had been together late fall near Ovando until 6A0 left 6A1 behind in November. 6A0 spent the winter along the Clark Fork River near Drummond, and 6A1 stayed on a local wetland until December when there was very little open water left. 6A1 must not have gone too far, because it returned in early March to the same wetland. A month later 6A0 rejoined it and they are both now in the valley.

6A5 was released in the Blackfoot last year as a yearling and was located by a landowner on the Colorado River in Southern California on February 28th. That’s about 960 miles, as the swan flies, from its release location! Swan 6A7, also released last year, was first sighted back here in March in a local rancher’s corral. It has since remembered it is a waterfowl and not a bovine and is sticking to nearby wetlands. There are several other adults in the valley as well, some in pairs, and most appear to no longer have their collars, so we will have to wait to see if any of them can be identified by leg bands.
Both of the successful pairs from last summer are back on their territories, vigorously chasing other swans away and doing some home improvement projects (nest repair). Last year’s cygnets, now juveniles, are on other wetlands in the valley and probably trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do next since mom and dad don’t seem to want them around anymore.

Thanks to everyone who has sent in sightings! Remember to watch for these great white birds in the local wetlands and please let us know if you see any.