The Trumpeter swan, Cygnus cygnus buccinator, was extirpated from Minnesota in the mid-1800's. The last confirmed sighting of a wild Trumpeter swan occurred in 1883-84 at Swan Lake in Nicolett County. The Trumpeter swan did not return to Minnesota until 1966 when Hennepin Parks undertook a project to breed Trumpeter swans in captivity on lakes in their parks. By 1980, swan numbers had reached a plateau at 125 birds and hatchlings were not pioneering into new areas.
The Minnesota Zoo became involved with Trumpeter swans in 1980 when Hennepin Parks donated a pair of birds to the Zoo for breeding. That same year the Zoo signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR) to assist the program in an aggressive attempt to introduce swans to Minnesota. The captive breeding aspect of the program is coordinated by Minnesota Zoo staff and involves coordinating breeding at two other AZA Member Institutions and a handful of private breeders.
The Zoo acquired two more pairs of swans genetically unrelated to other swans in the captive population. The three pair of swans at the Zoo were managed to produce maximum numbers of cygnets for release. The goal of the project was to have 10 breeding pairs of swans in the wild in Minnesota by 1996.
The first releases occurred in 1986. Swans were held at the Zoo or a MNDNR facility until they were 22 to 24 months old before release to reduce mortality. The swans were released on lakes and marshes in June and wing clipped. This allowed the birds to bond to the release site before molting in their flight feathers in July/August. The Zoo has provided 172 swans to the Restoration Program since 1986. A total of around 339 birds have been released. As of 2006 the program has resulted in a breeding population of approximately 2000 birds with a minimum of 100 wild pairs hatching at least 250 cygnets.
Many individuals at the Zoo have been involved in the project. The Northern Trail keeper staff cares for the breeding birds and the birds being held for release. The Bird Trail keeper staff is responsible for the incubation of eggs and rearing of cygnets. Jimmy Pichner, Bird Supervisor, manages the program on Zoo site.
For more information and ways that you can contribute to the restoration of the Trumpeter Swan to Minnesota, please visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ trumpeter swan website.