Many years ago, back in the 1970s, I visited my sister, who lived in West Yellowstone, Montana, in the dead of winter. We rented snow mobiles and drove into Yellowstone. That was the only way to get into Yellowstone in the winter (other than walking). You either rented a snowmobile or you took the big giant snowmobile bus (called a snow coach as I recall).

At one point we came to an overlook of a stretch of the river. It was the Madison River, downriver from the confluence of the Firehole. Out on the river were about 40 or so swans. My sister told me they were Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator). All of them. Or almost so. Only several dozen of these swans wintered in the region (the region being, approximately, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming) and for some reason they were almost all at this river in this year, and on this day, they were right there in view.

Of course there were other Trumpeter Swans out there, but not many. Canada has more than the US. There are a lot in the Mississippi Flyway these days. Around the middle of the 20th century they had almost gone extinct. They were heavily hunted as food, and for the feathers. Over the last few decades they have made something of a comeback, still not nearly as common as they once were. Here in Minnesota they are listed as threatened. It happens that our lake (well, it’s not our lake, but the lake were the cabins are) has a small bay that is a stopover for Tundra Swans, and as of late, Trumpeter Swans have been showing up and hanging around.

Trumpeter Swans are the largest extant waterfowl. Their wing span can be up to eight feet. They eat aquatic vegetation, including, interestingly, roots of aquatic plants. Apparently, one of them once ate a moth or something (see illustration) but really, they are mainly plantivores. Overall they are pretty amazing birds.

And apparently they are getting gunned down on a regular basis in Minnesota.

This morning’s news had this:

During this year’s open of waterfowl season, the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center admitted more trumpeter swans for bullet wounds than ever before.

…The number of swans admitted to the hospital this fall is still low, currently standing at eight, but the DNR said that’s still higher than usual. …Veterinarian hospital workers in Roseville see projectile wound, or bullet wound, injuries quite frequently.

It’s illegal to shoot trumpeter swans in Minnesota.

The executive director of the Wildlife Rehab Center, Phil Jenni, isn’t sure if [a particular shooting] shooting was intentional.
“There were other people in the vicinity who witnessed the swans flying into the water and being shot,” said Jenni,…

DNR non-game wildlife specialist Lori Naumann believes the higher number of trumpeter swans visiting the hospital this season is for two reasons.

“They (hunters) see this white thing, and they aren’t entirely sure what it is,” Naumann said.

The other reason is due to inexperienced or uninformed hunters. Regardless, the DNR is trying to do its best to make sure trumpeter swans don’t become regular visitors at WRC.

Three hunters have been charged. However, a DNR conservation officer said the case is still open because not all the fines have been paid. A fine for shooting a trumpeter swan is around $1,200.

So. You see this big white thing and, of course, you shoot it.

This problem is, of course not unique to Minnesota.

Great Trumpeter Swan birding report HERE. Occasionally things can go badly wrong.

Written by Greg
Greg Laden has been watching birds since they were still dinosaurs, but has remained the consummate amateur. This is probably because he needs better binoculars. Based in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, Greg is a biological anthropologist and Africanist, who writes and teaches about Evolution, especially of humans. He also blogs at Greg's beat is Bird Evolutionary Biology. One could say that knowing the science of birds can make the birds more interesting. But really, knowing about the birds that go with the science is more likely to make the science more interesting. And thus, birding and Neo Darwinian Theory go hand in hand. Darwin was, after all, a pretty serious birder. Greg has seen a bird eat a monkey in the wild.