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Swan Lake

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By Nick Johansen

A crowd of roughly 100 onlookers and students paid a visit to Viking Lake for a special event.

On May 9, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources released a new pair of trumpeter swans at the lake, as part of an effort to create a self-sustaining population of swans south of Interstate 80.

The release was led by Iowa DNR wildlife research technician Dave Hoffman, who engaged the audience in a presentation sharing information on the swans before they were officially released. Swans were also released at Lake Icaria and Lake Anita.

One of the best things about the presentation, Hoffman said, was seeing the excitement in the visiting students when they saw the swans up close.

“They love getting a closer look at the swans, and seeing how flexible the necks are, their wing feathers and the wing span. The actual release of the swans is quite exciting for the kids as well. It’s rewarding to see this species once again gracing our landscape, and seeing people want to improve the quality of life here in Iowa, wanting the trumpeter swans, and wanting a better place to live and enjoy,” Hoffman said.

These releases were part of the Iowa DNR’s statewide effort to restore trumpeter swans to Iowa that began in 1993. Trumpeter swans were once common in Iowa, but were gone from the state by the late 1880s. By the early 1930s, only 69 trumpeter swans remained in the lower 48 states.

Hoffman said the locations, such as Viking Lake, were chosen as swan release sites for a special reason.

“They are trying to improve the watershed and water quality here at Viking Lake. Releasing the swans will improve the watershed and the water quality. We also want to make sure there is plenty of food available for the swan. Viking Lake offers good water quality and good food for the swans, and creating an opportunity for the swans to nest here as well,” Hoffman said.

As the largest North American waterfowl, these all-white birds can weigh up to 32 pounds and have an 8-foot wingspan. Hoffman said they take steps to make sure all the pairs of swans that are released have an opportunity to settle in their particular lake.

“The wings of the swans are clipped, so they are not able to fly until they molt around July. Once the month of July rolls around, it’s up to their own will. Many times they’ll stay on the lake until December, and we know Viking Lake is a good spot to release them because other swans stop here and rest and refuel. That water quality and food availability makes it one of the best spots for the new swans,” commented Hoffman.

In 2018, the NCD said at the last release, would likely end future swan releases at Viking. However, circumstances arose which led to this latest release.

“We’d like to have at least eight pairs nesting, which is a sustainable population. Currently, we only have two pairs. The issue we run into is if there are swans nesting here, they can be territorial and aggressive towards the young swans. There was a pair nesting here last year, and they were territorial, but the female was killed on the nest. Since there were no territory issues this year, we continued the swan release schedule. We don’t really see any nesting activity this year, so we’ll play it by ear as to whether there’s another swan release in 2020.

While the female swan was unable to be saved, despite attempts to get it treatment at a veterinary clinic, Hoffman said they were able to save one of the eggs and successfully place it in a different nest in another part of the state.

In order to help the trumpeter swans thrive at Viking Lake, and other locations in Iowa, Hoffman said there are a number of steps people can take to prevent harm to the swans.

“Use non-toxic sinkers and ammo, pick up your fishing line litter, and contribute to natural resources. Also, if anyone sees someone shoot a swan, or sees someone post something about hunting one on social media, report that information to the DNR.”

Hoffman added another useful precaution is to ignore the urge to feed the swans yourself.

“Many times, people inadvertently feed the swans moldy bread, and accidentally poison or sicken the swans, ducks, and geese. The swans have their own natural food. Allowing them to eat their natural food keeps them more wild, and keeps them from getting too close to people and potentially being harmed,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman expressed his appreciation to the volunteers that helped make this swan release, and others, possible.

“I really appreciate the people’s support for the swans and natural resources. We need those donations and volunteer efforts. Without those volunteers and support, there’s no way this program would be able to continue.”