It has been a lonely life for Gracie, the adored resident trumpeter swan at the Sunriver Nature Center.
She lost her mate Chuck on Thanksgiving Day in 2017, when he was illegally shot and killed by a young man who was duck hunting on the Deschutes River northwest of Sunriver.
In the months that followed, Gracie could be seen wandering into nearby Sunriver neighborhoods and confusing her reflection in sliding glass doors for a mate. Neighbors heard her making loud trumpeting sounds.
Last fall, the nature center thought it found a new mate for Gracie. A rehabilitation facility in Illinois had a male trumpeter swan who was recovering from a gunshot wound and ready to meet Gracie. But before the swan was transported to Sunriver, it had to be euthanized because its fractured bones were not healing properly.
“It would have been in pain and not done well on our lake,” Amanda Accamando, Sunriver Nature Center manager, said. “The decision was made by the rehabber to humanely euthanize that individual.”
The nature center is now back to square one as it searches for a new mate for Gracie. Accamando has reached out to dozens of private breeders, wildlife organizations and zoos. But it is difficult to find a male that is not already paired with a female.
“They do mate for life, which is why it’s so hard to find an adult male to pair with Gracie,” Accamando said. “We would have to find one that lost a mate or for some reason never had a mate, and that’s rare.”
Not having a mate is not only a loss for Gracie, but for Oregon’s trumpeter swan breeding program, which is attempting to reintroduce a wild population across the state. The protected species is slowly recovering after being hunted to near-extinction in the early 1900s, when none remained in Oregon.
Today, about 35 trumpeter swans live year-round in Oregon, in addition to birds that migrate through the state. The goal of the state reintroduction program is to establish at least 15 pairs of breeding wild swans. That number would give the population a chance to be self-sufficient without needing to release captive swans, according to wildlife officials.
Five successful breeding pairs were counted last spring, and Chuck and Gracie could have been the sixth.
Chuck and Gracie were a critical pair for Oregon’s effort to repopulate the species. They produced six offspring, two in 2016 and the four in 2017.
“I think everybody understands what a great opportunity it is to have Gracie, who is able to produce cygnets for the population,” Accamando said. “She has been proven to have cygnets, and so we know that opportunity is out there.”
Gracie’s most recent offspring in 2017 — three males and one female — were sent 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 offers an ideal breeding habitat for trumpeter swans.
Through the state program to re-establish them, 116 swans have been released at Summer Lake since 2009. Many come from captivity in zoos or the Wyoming Wetland Society, which breeds and supplies swans to wildlife areas around the Western United States.
Gary Ivey, past president of the Trumpeter Swan Society and former biologist at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, helps monitor the breeding pairs for the state reintroduction program.
Despite Gracie not having a mate this spring, Ivey remains optimistic about other swan pairs in the region this breeding season.
The Trumpeter Swan Society, a national organization focused on protecting and growing wild swan populations, recently bought two swans for the Pronghorn Resort near Bend. And another swan pair at Aspen Lakes Golf Course in Sisters already produced one offspring last year, and is expected to breed again this spring.
In addition, Ivey is hoping to spot more successful breeding pairs in the wild this spring at Summer Lake, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and other wetlands around the state. The late-season snowfall in the region could also help improve the swans’ habitat and breeding grounds, Ivey said.
“I expect the swans to be in pretty good shape,” Ivey said. “It’s a good wet year. The habitat should be pretty good.”
Trumpeter swans are the largest native waterfowl in North America with wingspans that can reach up to 8 feet to loft their 30-pound bodies. They can live to be 30.
Chuck was 11 when he was shot and killed. Gracie is at least 10, but nobody knows exactly.
Gracie was rescued near First Street Rapids Park in Bend in December 2013 after she was found with a fishing lure through her tongue. She was rehabilitated and returned to the Deschutes River but struggled to fit in with other swans, which had found other mates.
She was brought to the Sunriver Nature Center in June 2015 and met Chuck. He had been at the nature center since 2013, when he was relocated from the Pronghorn Resort. He was a misfit at the resort when his brother paired with a female swan, making him the third wheel.
Over time, Chuck and Gracie became inseparable.
Accamando is motivated to find Gracie another mate. Ideally, she wants to find a male that has already reached the breeding age of at least 3 years old. A younger swan is an option, but that would delay plans to rejoin the state’s breeding program.
Meanwhile, people have been donating money to the nature center to cover the cost of replacing Chuck. The nature center has enough to buy a male swan, which costs about $1,300, Accamando said.
Accamando is following every lead in hopes of bringing Gracie a new mate. The search has become a difficult task, but it will be well worth it when Gracie has another swan in her life, Accamando said.
“We enjoyed observing her behavior with Chuck and certainly miss that,” she said. “We want to see Gracie paired up.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org