When Kevin Drees, director of animal collections, joined the Oklahoma City Zoo last year, he didn’t just relocate his wife and children to the Sooner state, he also brought a family of trumpeter swans. The bonded pair, Sam and Olivia, and their unnamed male cygnet, hatched in June 2017, were his families’ personal swans who had long-inhabited a lake on their property.
On Thursday, May 10, 2018, the male cygnet, just shy of his first birthday, was released into the wild as part of a program to restore trumpeter swan populations. The release was part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources efforts that began in 1993.
Oklahoma lies south of the species’ historic nesting range, but at one time, it was the wintering home for many hundreds, perhaps thousands of trumpeter swans. History is now repeating itself while growing numbers of trumpeter swans are once again wintering in western Oklahoma as the Midwestern population recovers. The Oklahoma Wildlife Diversity Program assists the Trumpeter Swan Society, a nonprofit organization based in Minnesota that helps to track and monitor the birds.
By the early 1930s, only 69 trumpeter swans remained in the lower 48 states. Beginning in the 1960s, state and federal agencies, private individuals and zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums began a series of restoration efforts to return the trumpeter swans to the Midwest through releases into Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio. During the last 20 years, their population has grown from a few hundred released birds to a thriving, reproducing population of over 4,500 birds.
Drees assisted in last year's trumpeter swan release:
It takes six years, on average, before trumpeter swans successfully nest. As the largest North American waterfowl, these all-white birds can weigh up to 32 pounds and have an 8-foot wingspan. The trumpeter swans being released are young and flightless and will imprint on the area where they learn to fly, returning each year as open water is available.
In addition to the cygnet from the Oklahoma City Zoo, other released trumpeter swans came from zoos in Cleveland, OH, Kansas City, MO, Green Bay, WI and Baltimore, MD.
Trumpeter swans Sam and Olivia have recently moved from the pond near the entry of the OKC Zoo to the Oklahoma Trails white tail deer habitat where they can be found in or around the pond.