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Swans are swimming once again

My-oh-my how times have changed. Over the last 35-plus years, I have witnessed a few amazing changes in nature. Normally, I don't think it would be possible to make these kinds of claims. After all, in nature, it usually takes hundreds, if not thousands, of years to affect changes. But when you throw in the affects of humans, everything seems to be accelerated.

Recently, I have been spending a lot of time photographing a Trumpeter Swan nest with cygnets. When I first started in this career of studying / photographing and writing about nature, there were no Trumpeter Swans around. They were locally extinct, a term called extirpated. Like a lot of species, we (humans) did a great job at eliminating so many. They were wiped out of nearly all regions in the lower 48 states.

From the time of settlement until very recently, Trumpeter Swans were hunted for their meat and feathers. They are a large bird and fairly easy to shoot, and provided the hunter a healthy meal. So these birds were targeted, and were quickly killed off in much of the country before 1900.

The same thing happened to so many other species, such as Eastern Turkey and Whooping Crane. Many more suffered the same fate but from different reasons. Loons, Bald Eagles, Osprey and others were also nearly wiped out due to chemicals (DDT) in the environment and loss of habitat.

However, with the birth of the environmental movement in the 1970's, things started to turn around. Laws were passed to protect these birds. At the same time, reintroduction programs were launched and many of these species have responded very quickly.

To restore the Trumpeter Swan, eggs were taken from a wild population of swans that still existed in Alaska and northern Canada. These eggs were hatched and the chicks raised to adulthood. The adults were kept to become the "seed" stock for future swans. Slowly, over many years, enough adult birds were available to be released into the wild. All of these introduced birds had large neck collars with identification numbers.

I recall very clearly leading a bird watching / photo tour in the early 1990's when I spotted my first Trumpeter Swan in the wild. Up until this point, it wasn't possible to see a Trumpeter Swan in the wild in the upper Midwest, so you can imagine just how excited my participants were to see this amazing bird.

Nowadays, the birds seem so common in many parts of the country. I was photographing a pair of swans with their cygnets the other day at a small park. A family with two young children and a dog were walking by and stopped to see what I was doing. Even though the pair of swans and six cygnets were about 100 feet away, with my camera pointing right at the birds, they didn't see what I was photographing until I told them what I was filming.

I am no longer stunned by these lack of observation skills, but what really amazes me is that I mentioned to the family that at one point in the not so distant past, these birds were extinct in this region and needed to be reintroduced. That means the occurrence of the swans nesting in this park is fairly noteworthy. However, the response I got from the family was they had no idea and thought that the swans were always there.

I guess, on one hand, it is good that people think the swans are "normal." But on the other hand, if we don't understand our past or have knowledge of our history, it's going to be a problem. You know what they say about history. If you don't know or understand your history you are doomed to repeat it. Let's hope not. Until next time...

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on www.face and twitter. com. He can be reached at his web page at


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