Story by Elaine Caton                                                                                                      Blackfoot Challenge Education & Swan Program Coordinator

This has turned out to be a banner year for trumpeter swans in the Blackfoot watershed. The first swan sightings were reported in March, when swans began returning from their wintering grounds in Southwest Montana and Idaho. Spring and fall are challenging times of year to positively identify trumpeters because there are also tundra swans migrating through our area in those seasons. (See an earlier post for how to tell them apart!) But by late April the tundra swans are headed to the arctic where they breed, and our resident swans stay behind. We estimate that at least 20 pairs of swans and likely as many younger, unpaired swans have come to the Blackfoot this year. These include the three swans that were released as yearlings in May 2021, in what was likely our last release in the watershed.

The observations that people relay to us provide some fascinating information about the travels these birds make and offer little glimpses into their individual lives. Those three yearlings were sighted on American Falls Reservoir in Idaho last March, when we first found out that they all had survived fall migration and the winter. And they were with another Blackfoot swan, 1V2.  1V2 was released as a yearling in 2020, and was sighted in Alberta, Canada, last summer, just north of Calgary! I find it interesting that these Blackfoot swans somehow found each other in the large flocks that winter in those areas. Does it have anything to do with the matching red bands on their legs? Or is it something more natural that prompts them to recognize fellow Blackfoot birds?

While our three young swans from 2021 returned to the Jones Lake area this spring, 1V2 continues to be a wanderer, and she was sighted in the Mission Valley in June. Although we generally hope the swans we release will return to the Blackfoot, we also hope that Blackfoot swans and Mission swans will mix occasionally in order to keep genetic diversity high and prevent inbreeding.

And now for the really exciting news of the summer: we’ve had 10 pairs of swans nest in the Blackfoot this year (that we know of), and 8 of those nests hatched a total of 34 cygnets! That is the highest number of active 

Blackfoot trumpeter swan family; Photo by Kevin Ertl

nests, the highest number of successful nests, and the most cygnets hatched since our restoration program began. And for the first time since the Blackfoot swan story began with the nesting attempt in 2003 at the Bouma Post and Pole Yard near Lincoln, there was a successful nest just east of there. Louie and Trudie Bouma have been such important swan program advocates for years. It is wonderful to see their faith that the swans would return to that area pay off.

Thank you to the many, many landowners, residents, and visitors who have supported the project over the years and who continue to protect habitat and enjoy these magnificent birds on our landscape. Because of the success of the program, we have now met our goal of having at least seven successful nests for at least two years in a row, and we don’t plan to release more swans. But along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we will continue to monitor the population to make sure this positive trend continues, and your observations are a very important part of that.  Although we are still working on our new online reporting form (stay tuned for it going live), you can always report sightings to or by calling our office at 406-793-3900. Hope you get a chance to enjoy seeing these regal birds in the Blackfoot watershed this summer!