2016 has seen the most pairs of Trumpeter Swans in the Blackfoot, the greatest number of nests, and the most cygnets hatched here since reintroduction efforts began. That trend of success continued throughout the summer, with most cygnets from most nests surviving to fledge, or develop the feathers and muscles necessary to fly.

There were 8 active nests in the watershed this spring, and 6 of those nests produced young. The numbers of cygnets that hatched from each nest ranged from 2 to 5, for a whopping total of 24! This is more than twice the highest number of cygnets previously hatched, which was 10 in 2014. And survival to fledging was also great this year; 17 of those 24 cygnets are now flying around the valley with their parents!

There was an 18th cygnet that has survived, but is not flying.  A pair of trumpeters settled on Placid Lake near Seeley Lake last summer, and nested there this year, to the delight of many homeowners and visitors.  Markers set in the water to inform boaters to avoid disturbing the nesting swans were successful, and this pair hatched 5 cygnets in June.  The family, along with a family of loons, were watched and enjoyed throughout the summer and fall.

Trumpeter Swan family on Placid Lake in July, 2016.  Photo courtesy of Mark Taylor.

Observant lake residents noticed that in September, when the family first began to fly around, one cygnet did not take to the air with the rest.  The parents and 4 other cygnets flew at least as far as Salmon Lake, leaving the last one behind.  When this situation hadn’t changed after a month, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists were able to capture the non-flying cygnet by boat.  It appeared otherwise healthy and strong, but had not grown the normal flight feathers on its wings.  It was taken to the Wyoming Wetlands Society’s captive breeding facility in Jackson, Wyoming, where it will be tested and cared for through the winter, and where hopefully it will grow flight feathers when it molts next summer.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Randy Gazda holding the 5th cygnet from Placid Lake