Wounded Wisconsin swan lives to love again

Published 12:12 pm Friday, November 26, 2010

ST. PAUL — This swan doesn’t have a name, but you wouldn’t be wrong calling him “Lucky.”

In late October, a hunter in the Fish Lake Wildlife Area south of Grantsburg, Wis., found a trumpeter swan bleeding from a shotgun wound. The bird had difficulty flying and it was believed to have only days to live.

The tagged swan was known to locals, who had seen him in the area for years with his mate as the pair raised a number of cygnets, or baby swans. So a group went after the bird in kayaks and canoes, eventually catching him by hand.

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“It was getting pretty weak, and we were able to nab it then,” said Mary Wicklund of Grantsburg, who has been involved in trumpeter swan issues for the past decade. “The whole side of him was bright red, and we could see he was pretty severely injured.”

The bird was brought to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota in Roseville, where he was found to have tissue wounds from shotgun pellets and to be suffering from dehydration, said Phil Jenni, the center’s executive director.

After little more than a week of rehabilitation, the bird was well enough to be released back into the Grantsburg wildlife area. During the bird’s release, however, his mate — the birds couple for life — was nowhere to be found.

But swan love apparently knows no distance.

On Tuesday morning, it was discovered that he and his mate had reunited in Hudson, Wis. — about 60 miles south of the release site.

“He looks fantastic,” said Barry Wallace of Hudson, who spotted the pair Tuesday and helped in the rescue effort. “I knew he had been released in Fish Lake and he hadn’t found his mate up there, so I was glad to see they were back (together).”

The birds will winter at the confluence of the St. Croix and Willow rivers, where there’s open water all year, Wallace said. About 300 to 400 trumpeter swans will spend the cold months there.

“They’re very loyal to their wintering sites,” said Wallace, who can see the birds from his kitchen window and helps in conservation efforts. “They come back year after year.”

This particular swan is 7 years old and returns to Hudson every winter, Wallace said, adding that the bird and his mate don’t have any cygnets this year.

Chris Spaight, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conservation warden who also helped in the rescue, said it’s still not clear who shot the swan — which is federally protected — or why.

“Swans can be mistaken, maybe, for a snow goose, but they’re nowhere near the same size,” he said.

Spaight said it’s unusual for trumpeter swans in the area to be shot. He believed the swan was either mistaken for, or hit during the shooting of, another type of bird.

“It is so critically important that waterfowl hunters are able to identify their targets and make sure that it is a species that they are able to harvest,” he said.

It’s illegal in Minnesota and Wisconsin to shoot trumpeter swans, said Pat Manthey, an avian ecologist with the Wisconsin DNR’s bureau of endangered resources. Previously, the birds were considered endangered in Wisconsin.

Manthey banded the bird herself when it was a cygnet near Hayward, Wis. She said it’s important the bird was saved because it has scientific value; its band can provide information about trumpeter swan behavior, something ecologists are still working to understand.

Manthey applauded the efforts of those who saved the bird.

“The amazing thing is we have these volunteers and some staff members, who go out in pretty nasty weather … and rescue birds,” Manthey said.

Most trumpeter swans that come into the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota suffer from lead poisoning, Jenni said. Shootings do happen, though — another trumpeter swan was brought to the center just last week after being shot in White Bear Lake. It’s expected to survive, but with permanent injuries.

When the Grantsburg bird came into the rehabilitation center, it needed fluid injections, antibiotics, pain medications, and a prophylactic antifungal drug, Jenni said, adding that swans can be expensive to treat. The bird cost the center, which is a nonprofit and is supported by donors, about $100 a day just in medication.

Jenni said he and the center’s staff were excited to hear about the bird’s sighting in Hudson. It’s rare for rehabilitated animals to be sited in the wild again, he said.

“We don’t normally know what happens to animals when we release them,” Jenni said. “This is great news for us.”