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Washington key to trumpeter swan comeback

The number of trumpeter swans in Washington has grown in recent years after nearly going extinct.

According to Seattle Audubon’s “Bird Web,” fewer than 100 trumpeter swans were alive south of Canada in the 1930s, and reports were scarce up into the 1950s. Habitat preservation, hunting restrictions and reintroductions boosted the trumpeter comeback, especially in the Northwest.

“They are now found in greater numbers in Washington than anywhere else in the contiguous United States,” states Bird Web. “Of more than 15,000 individuals estimated in North America, more than 2,000 were counted in Skagit County during the 1999-2000 hunting season.”

Swans are not legal to hunt in Washington, but state and federal waterfowl managers count them in overall waterfowl surveys.

Outside of Skagit County, unknown numbers of trumpeter swans spend the winter in wetlands on the Olympic Peninsula, including the Chimacum Valley and Crocker Lake in Jefferson County.

Most of the birds nest farther north in Canada, where they return in the spring.

The Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge trumpeters are a notable exception. They nest on the Spokane County refuge, but no one knows where they go during winter ice-up.

“It can’t be far,” said Mike Rule, Turnbull wildlife biologist, noting that for decades a swan named Solo always returned within days after enough open water was ice free for a landing.

While the number of trumpeter swans is growing in Washington, habitat loss remains a threat, according to Bird Web.

Spent lead shot, used for waterfowl hunting before it was banned in 1986, remains a threat on the bottom of ponds, since trumpeter swans ingest grit to help with digestion. As few as three ingested lead pellets can kill a trumpeter swan.

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