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15 more swans to be placed in Montana valley

Mon., May 8, 2006

GREAT FALLS – Wildlife biologists plan to place 15 trumpeter swans in the Blackfoot Valley next month and hope some of the 10 swans placed at a pond in the area last year will return.

The goal is to establish the valley’s first self-sustaining population of trumpeter swans.

“The swans have some good things going for them, and we will be giving them a shot in the arm this year with another larger group of yearling swans that I hope will jump on the migration this fall, see the wide world to the south this winter and be back in the Blackfoot next spring,” said Tom Hinz of Montana Wetlands Legacy.

The 15 young swans to be brought in next month will come from Jackson, Wyo., said Greg Neudecker, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. Last year’s transplants were from Jackson, as well.

Hinz said that of the 10 swans transplanted in 2005, half were near the site of their release until early December “when everything finally froze, and we have heard nothing from them since.” Biologists do not know whether the birds are alive.

Of the other five swans, a coyote killed one in November, another was reported dead and a third was found dead on the shore of Upsata Lake in November. One swan spent the winter on the Blackfoot River upstream from Bonner, Hinz said. Another wintered at the Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area in Galen. On Friday that bird reappeared in the Blackfoot Valley, Neudecker said.

If the five unaccounted for do not arrive by mid-May, it is unlikely they will return, Neudecker said.

To firmly establish a swan population in the valley, biologists may have to release 100 birds over the next five to 10 years, he said. Because the young birds are learning to fly in the Blackfoot Valley, odds that they will return are strong, biologists say.

Five of the new swans will be introduced in the Blackfoot with the one swan that migrated to Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area and recently returned, Neudecker said. He hopes that next fall, that swan will teach the new birds to migrate and return.

The other 10 birds will be released on one or two wetlands in the same general area as the 2005 release. To protect the birds, officials have not disclosed the exact location.

A donor anonymously contributed money to fund the swan project. Money also will be available for power companies and ranchers to mark power lines and fences, in an effort to keep birds from flying into them.

For several years, two trumpeter swans inhabited a chain of private ponds east of Lincoln. Biologists believe that pair was the first to nest in the Blackfoot Valley. There is a chance they are in the region’s flyway, Hinz said.

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