Prior to the settlement of Iowa, trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) nested throughout the state. However, wetland drainage and unregulated hunting of trumpeters soon brought their demise. Trumpeter swans were first given nationwide protection in 1918 when the United States, Canada, and Mexico signed the International Migratory Bird Treaty. A nationwide swan count in the early 1930s showed that only 69 existed in the continental United States, with all those occurring in Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Montana. In 1993, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources developed a plan to restore trumpeter swans back to the state. Iowa swans are being obtained from zoos, private propagators, other state swan projects, and any other sources that might have swans available.
After three years of migration observations, most Iowa swans that migrate some distance are wintering in northeast and east-central Kansas and northwest and west-central Missouri. A review of swan sightings indicates that over the last five years most areas of the state are now seeing swans at sometime during the year. This is another indication that the restoration effort, although slow, is moving forward. The DNR is excited about what the future holds for trumpeter swan in the state.
The Kansas City Zoo’s Waters Edge Team cares for and has successfully breed Trumpeter Swans over the past several years. Each year that our trumpeter swans successfully rear cygnets (baby swans), the Kansas City Zoo can participate in this wonderful restoration project. Once each group of cygnets is old enough to be on their own, they are relocated to Iowa to become part of this reintroduction program and be released back into the wild.