A fanfare of cheers and applause greeted four trumpeter swans as they made their first splash into their new home at Summit Lake in Creston Friday morning.
The swans were the last four that will be released in 2014 as part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources effort to restore the trumpeter swan population. There were 46 swan nest attempts in Iowa in 2013.
“Since only two nesting attempts occurred in southern Iowa in 2013, additional restoration efforts will be focused on that half of the state,” said Iowa DNR Wildlife Technician Dave Hoffman.
Hoffman has been working with the trumpeter swan restoration program since its inception in 1994. The program has released 1,132 swans that have been reported in 17 states as far west as Colorado and as far east as Virginia.
“Iowa swans have also been seen in two Canadian provinces,” Hoffman said.
From 1884 to 1997 there were no nesting swan pairs in Iowa. Today, trumpeter swans are nearing sustainable numbers in north central and east central Iowa.
The swans released at Summit Lake — two males and two females — have one wing clipped and are only 11 months old. They will be unable to fly until after they molt or replace their feathers this fall.
In 2013, three swans were released at Green Valley Lake by Hoffman and the Iowa DNR. One of the swans was reported near Chariton two weeks ago.
Hoffman also released five swans at Lake Icaria in Adams County May 7.
Summit Lake habitat
The spillway at Summit Lake deteriorated past the point of repair during severe flooding in 2008, so the lake was drained to allow crews to work on replacing the structure.
“When Summit Lake was drawn down, the rough fish were removed,” Hoffman said. “Now the rough fish are not muddying up the water, making it clear and allowing more plants to grow.”
Summit Lake is also shallow enough in spots for the swans to use their long necks to reach the aquatic vegetation.
Iowa DNR Biologist Chad Paup said the habitat having submergence and emergent vegetation was key in deciding to release the swans at the Summit Lake.
Hoffman considers the swans as “great ambassadors” for improving water quality in Iowa. In 2013, the drought forced many young swans to travel long distances to search for food and water.
“This stresses the importance of protecting our remaining wetlands, which function as Mother Nature’s sponges by absorbing and reducing flash flooding events and holding water later into the dry summers,” Hoffman said.
Trumpeter swans typically pioneer north to expand their breeding range. With the older swans success in the northern half of Iowa, Hoffman said it is likely the swans released at Summit Lake could be drawn to nest in areas all across Iowa.
“We hope they imprint and attach themselves to this area,” Hoffman said. “Then actually come back to nest in this area.”
All of the birds have metal bands on their leg to signify they were released by the Iowa DNR. One swan in each release is giving a bright red collar to give Hoffman and the DNR a sample population on how the trumpeter swans that are released are surviving, migrating and eventually mating.
“We appreciate the local public support and passion to restore trumpeter swans,” Hoffman said. “We will continue monitoring, surveying, banding, recording observations, and providing outreach and technical assistance to make certain that these gorgeous birds will remain in Iowa for future generations.”