Thursday, September 15, 2011

Swan Banding

I spent a chilly, wet day yesterday banding Trumpeter Swan cygnets in Wisconsin. What a fabulous way to spend a crisp September day!

We band cygnets at this time of year because they're large enough to be correctly fitted with the bands, but cannot fly yet, allowing a "round-up" to take place using kayaks.

Basically, the banding crew drives to the different sites, the DNR pilot flies overhead to give everyone an idea of where the swans are, then he directs the entire process from hundreds of feet above. This cannot be an easy task. He was amazing and thanks to him all three sites went smoothly and fairly quickly.

Cygnets are gray their first year, turning white the following fall. They'll migrate and stay together as a family throughout the winter, returning to the same breeding area before the young leave to find their own territories and mates.

Once the cygnets are in hand, they are fitted with three different bands: two yellow bands from the Wisconsin DNR swan program (a neck band and a leg band) and a metal leg band from the USFWS. The large neck band makes tracking the swans easy, especially throughout the winter.

 The swans are then carefully bundled into a mesh net

and suspended from a scale. The cygnet's weight is recorded and filed along with its band numbers. Most of the swans we banded weighed in the neighborhood of 9.4 kg.

All 15 cygnets were on private land and banding would not have been possible without the cooperation of the land owners. It's wonderful to see great support of the WI-DNR's swan program.

Our final banding site was a former cranberry bog. Here's the owner getting ready to release one of the cygnets. Vet Leslie from WRC and I were amazed at how docile the swans were (they're actually pretty exhausted by this point). I know it looks odd, but this is the correct way to hold and support a calm swan. If we attempted to carry swans at WRC this way, they'd peck us to death!

As each swan is banded, it's carried to the water's edge and set on the ground with the volunteer straddling the swan to hold it in place. Once all the cygnets in that family are banded and ready to go, they're released as a group.  Pat, from the DNR, explained that they do this because a couple of times in the past cygnets became separated from one another in the tall grasses. While they'll eventually reunite, the cygnets are already stressed from being handled and if left alone are in a vulnerable position.

Many, many thanks to Mary and Pat for the invitation to join them on this fabulous adventure!