Trumpeter Swans at Goose Pond

We thought about the Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas on December 24th and 26th - after spotting some spectacular birds at Goose Pond, we would have changed the verses to

On the day before and the second day of Christmas
my true love sent to me:
8 swans a swimming...

  Photo by Mark and Sue Foote-Martin

Photo by Mark and Sue Foote-Martin

We spotted a neck-collared trumpeter swan swimming with seven other swans the day before and the day after Christmas here at Goose Pond Sanctuary! We first spotted the swan family on December 24 while conducting a waterfowl count. The family was in the corner of the west pond near Prairie Lane and Goose Pond Road. After the initial sighting we headed back for our camera and were able to get readable photos of the collar (black letters 48Y on a yellow collar). The collared swan was with its mate and six cygnets.

We reported the sighting to the Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and learned that that the bird was banded on August 27, 2008 as a young bird, sex unknown, adjacent to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Juneau County. The collared swan is 7 years old - which seems old to us - however, the DNR has a 2015 record of a 26 year old female swan that has been confirmed as the oldest living trumpeter swan in North America!

Trumpeter swans are the largest species of waterfowl in North American. Lisa Hartman and Mike Mossman, both long-time Madison Audubon volunteers and field trip leaders, wrote the trumpeter swan section for the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Wisconsin: “With its six-foot wingspan, the voice of a French horn, and a footprint the size of a dinner plate, [the trumpeter swan] is making an impressive comeback.” We've enjoyed hearing the call of trumpeter swans mixed in with 191 tundra swans.

In the 1960’s, A. W. Schroger researched the history of trumpeter swans breeding in Wisconsin and located reports of trumpeters breeding at the Madison Lakes.  Schroger wrote “that Waubesa is a corruption of wabisi”, the Chippewa word for swan.  Swan Creek flows into Lake Waubesa and to the east is a large swan effigy mound.  Researchers believed that trumpeters nested in Wisconsin into the 1890’s and then were extirpated due to market shooting and the millinery trade.

In 1987, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began reintroducing trumpeter swans into Wisconsin and they set a recovery goal of 20 pairs by 2000.  In 2000, the DNR found 44 trumpeter swan nests, mostly in northwest and west central Wisconsin where the swans were introduced.  In 2009, trumpeters were removed from the state’s endangered species list.  Around the turn of the century trumpeters were added to the Goose Pond bird list that contains 35 species of waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans).

In 2014, 254 trumpeter swan nests were found and the DNR estimates the Wisconsin population in 2015 at 4,700.   In the first year of the Breeding Bird Atlas, trumpeters were confirmed nesting in 58 blocks. Trumpeters do not form pair bonds until they are three to four years old.  

We would have never thought that we would have had open water at Goose Pond in late December for our Poynette Christmas Bird Count and that trumpeter and tundra swans would be tallied on our Goose Pond Unit of the bird count!

Trumpeters do not migrate far and maybe you will sight this family on the Madison Lakes or streams and rivers.  Collared trumpeter swans are easy to identify.  Jim Otto, Goose Pond Sanctuary volunteer, mentioned that trumpeters are getting more difficult to identify since they are evolving with fewer birds having a distinctive neck collar. As always, this is a great reminder to please report any sightings of banded birds to the DNR or Fish and Wildlife Service Bird Banding Laboratory!

By Mark and Sue Foote-Martin, Resident Managers, Goose Pond Sanctuary