Notes from the Field: Trumpeter Swan Cygnet Released into Wild

Oklahoma City Zoo Hoofstock Caretaker Lisbeth Pisias recounts her conservation journey to Iowa as part of a multi-state trumpeter swan release project.

I was selected to transport a young trumpeter swan (cygnet) born and raised at the Oklahoma City Zoo and facilitate his release into the wild. The experience was a career highlight as it embodies the Zoo's mission: to conserve and protect all species. Trumpeter swans were once bountiful throughout the country, but in the 1930s they were hunted to just 69 members in the United States.

Through conservation efforts we have been able to bring back the trumpeter swan from the brink of extinction, however, it is vital that we continue our conservation efforts until populations are returned to stable levels. Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl birds in the United States, weighing up to 32 pounds with wing spans up to 10 feet!

Lisbeth Pisias holding cygnet swan

The release of our cygnet was a collaboration between 9 zoos, the Trumpeter Swan Society and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Animal caretakers arrived from around the country to release a total of 20 cygnets into three different lakes and wetland habitats in Iowa. Some traveled through flood zones caused by severe weather and tornadoes. Four swans and a caretaker were flown out by FedEx from Alaska! Being surrounded by such dedicated animal professionals from multiple organizations was inspiring. What truly amazed me was the support from the local community. We were joined by people from our campgrounds, locals who brought their children and several school groups. I was glad to share the experience of releasing these beautiful birds with the community. 

Trumpeter Swan Release

Trumpeter swans need everyone's support to return to stable numbers. Here are several ways you can help ensure our cygnet and other trumpeter swans survive:

1.       Please use alternatives to lead buckshot; 256 swans died from lead poisoning in just one state last year.

2.       Please do not feed swans or other waterfowl bread.

3.       Conserve and protect our wetlands. Trumpeter swans are an indicator species for clean water, something we all benefit from.  Wetlands also mitigate flooding!

4.       Power lines are a major threat to large birds. Please spread the word to your communities and government officials.

I would like to thank all the Oklahoma City Zoo guests and ZOOfriend members who make conservation efforts like these possible. 

Trumpeter swans released in Iowa were spotted in Oklahoma during migrations, so keep an eye out for our cygnet in the future! Our male was released on Lake Icaria with 9 other cygnets, he was given an identification band on his right leg 1959-01525. 

Lisbeth Pisias by ZOObaru

-Lisbeth Pisias, hoofstock caretaker


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