Sunriver Nature Center staff can’t believe the odds.
Exactly two years since four baby trumpeter swans hatched on the Fourth of July, another four fuzzy heads appeared Thursday from their mother’s nest on the nature center’s Lake Aspen.
Seeing the little white heads bouncing in the nest of their mother, Gracie, is making for another memorable Independence Day.
“This is a lucky day for us for sure,” said Amanda Accamando, nature center manager.
Trumpeter swans usually breed earlier in the spring, but nothing has gone as planned for Gracie, the nature center’s resident swan.
When Gracie’s babies hatched July 4, 2017, it was after several nests and eggs were destroyed by raccoons. Having any baby swans hatch that year was considered the surprise of the summer.
“It was late timing then, and we knew it would be late timing this year, as well,” Accamando said. “It’s just a great coincidence.”
There was no guarantee Gracie would produce offspring this year. She had been alone at the nature center since losing her mate, Chuck, on Thanksgiving Day in 2017, when he was illegally shot and killed by a young hunter on the Deschutes River northwest of Sunriver.
After a nationwide search for a new mate, Gracie was introduced May 13 to a male swan, Gus, who was transported from the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary in Southwest Michigan.
Gracie and Gus were immediately drawn to each other, but nature center staff figured it was too late in the breeding season for them to produce any babies. Staffers had their hopes set on next spring.
“This is really icing on the cake for us this year given the introduction of Gus to Grace and everything else that has gone on,” Accamando said. “This is just really special.”
The newly hatched baby swans in Sunriver come a few weeks after a swan pair at the Aspen Lakes Golf Course in Sisters had eight babies hatch in their nest.
“It’s been a great year for Central Oregon swans,” Accamando said.
Gracie and Gus and the Sisters swan pair, Eloise and Pete, are part of the state’s breeding program that is trying to help repopulate the once threatened species. The protected species is still 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.
Gracie has been a critical part of the state’s breeding program. Before Chuck was killed, they produced six offspring — two in 2016 and four in 2017.
All offspring are 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 habitat for trumpeter swans to thrive.
Gracie’s babies will join the wild swans at Summer Lake this fall or next spring.
In the meantime, nature center staff is enjoying the excitement surrounding the babies.
The nature center is planning to host a swan baby shower from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 19. The event will feature educational activities about swans, arts and crafts and a reading from author Alice Elshoff, who published the children’s book “How Grace Got Her Name,” based on the true events of the nature center swan’s life.
“It will be a full day celebrating the babies,” Accamando said.
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