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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Trumpeter swans continue to make home at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

Carlene Hardt took this photo of an adult trumpeter swan on  Friday at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. She wrote, “The trumpeter swan is a majestic bird, with snowy white feathers, jet-black bill, feet and legs, and an 8-foot wingspan.” (Carlene Hardt / COURTESY)

Last week, Carlene Hardt took this photo of an adult trumpeter swan at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

The swan is likely one of the 10 or so that lives at the refuge more or less year-round, refuge biologist Mike Rule said.

Like many birds, trumpeter swans migrate, but Turnbull’s population is more static.

Starting in the late 1960s, wildlife managers at Turnbull clipped the bird’s feathers, fed them and aerated ponds to keep them from freezing in hopes of conserving the imperiled species. This continued until 1976.

By then, the birds were making something of a comeback throughout North America after being nearly driven to extinction.

But decade or so of clipping and feeding had an effect on Turnbull’s swan population.

“What they did was basically create a nonmigratory group of birds,” Rule said.

While other trumpeter swans migrate south in the winter, Turnbull’s population more or less stays put.

“They leave if we freeze up,” Rule said. “But then they almost immediately come back.”

Rule hopes that changes. With more swans traveling through each year as habitat improves to the north and south, some Turnbull swans seem to be learning new ways. Since 2017, for instance, 23 swans have been born at the refuge, Rule said. Yet managers only see about half of them.

“We’re hoping that means the swans have moved on someplace else,” he said.

In all likelihood, the swan Hardt snapped a photo of last week is a resident swan, which mean it’s a descendent of one legendary Turnbull bird: Solo.

After managers stopped feeding the birds in 1976, a severe drought decimated the refuge’s numbers. By 1980, Turnbull had only one breeding pair. By 1988, the refuge’s population was reduced to a single male, Solo.

For the next 21 years, Solo lived, as his name suggests, alone. Then, in 2009, he was seen with another swan. Later that year, they nested and had babies.

Now the resident swans at Turnbull are all descendents of Solo, who died in 2011 of lead poisoning.

This year, it appears Turnbull has one nesting pair, although Rule hopes for two.

The wildlife refuge is open to visitors, Rule said, but the restrooms and the office are closed.