Wildlife officials working to re-establish the trumpeter swan population in Oregon expected to see baby swans hatch this breeding season in wetlands across the state, but not any at a golf course in Sisters.
But late last month, a white fuzzy head popped up from the nest of Eloise, a resident swan at the Aspen Lakes Golf Course.
Eloise was introduced in March to Pete, a male swan donated to the golf course from North Carolina to enhance Oregon’s trumpeter swan breeding program.
The two bonded immediately, but nobody thought they would produce offspring this year. They had a late start to the breeding season, and Pete is only 3 years old, a year shy of the traditional breeding age, according to Robin Gold, a wildlife rehabilitation expert who lives in the Aspen Lakes neighborhood.
“It really surprised everyone,” Gold said. “Nobody thought we would have cygnets this year. We thought they would just play house.”
Eloise, who is in her late teens, laid three eggs, and one successfully hatched June 28. The baby swan, or cygnet, is named Sydney.
Next spring, Sydney will be transported to the Summer Lake Wildlife Area, a 19,000-acre wetland in central Lake County overseen by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The wildlife area is a natural breeding habitat for swans.
Through the state program to re-establish them, 116 swans have been released at Summer Lake since 2009.
Many have come from captivity in zoos or the Wyoming Wetland Society, which breeds and supplies swans to wildlife areas around the Western United States.
Any cygnets hatched in Oregon boost the state’s efforts to re-establish the threatened species. About 15 to 25 swans are at Summer Lake and about 30 to 40 call Oregon home.
The state’s goal is to grow the population to 75 to 100, with 15 pairs of breeding wild swans.
The entire trumpeter swan population continues to recover from being hunted to near-extinction around the turn of the 20th century, when none remained in Oregon. Trumpeter swans are the largest native waterfowl in North America, with wingspans that can reach up to 8 feet, big enough to loft their 30-pound bodies.
This year’s breeding season had a noticeable setback with the loss of popular Sunriver Nature Center resident swan, Chuck, who was illegally shot and killed by a hunter on Thanksgiving. Chuck and his mate, Gracie, had produced six offspring in two years. Wildlife officials were counting on a third consecutive year of new cygnets.
The nature center is now searching for a new mate for Gracie, and hopes to have one by the end of the summer.
Despite the loss of Chuck, it has been a promising breeding season in Oregon.
Bend resident Gary Ivey, a member of the Trumpeter Swan Society and former biologist at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, has counted 17 cygnets from five swan pairs this year, including the pair at the Sisters Golf Course.
The other swan pairs don’t have names or the public attention like the ones in Sisters or Sunriver. But their breeding success is critical, Ivey said.
“We have had some ups and downs,” Ivey said. “But we are starting to get a little momentum.”
Last week, Ivey visited the Sabre Ridge Ranch east of Prineville where two pairs of swans from Summer Lake have taken root. One of the pairs recently produced three cygnets on the private ranch, Ivey said.
Farther east, a swan pair at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge produced six cygnets. A Summer Lake pair produced six offspring as well, Ivey said.
Ivey also heard at least one cygnet hatched on the Sycan Marsh in the Fremont-Winema National Forest.
Ivey is encouraged to see more swans surviving and breeding in Oregon outside of Summer Lake.
To continue that success, the Trumpeter Swan Society is looking for private landowners with large ponds who would be interested in hosting breeding pairs on their property, Ivey said.
Those interested can contact the society by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, email@example.com