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Rob Zimmer column: Beauty or beast, swans to take center stage in 2014

Feb. 25, 2014
 
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SWAN HUNT COMING TO WISCONSIN?

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is looking for feedback from the public on the creation of a tundra swan hunting season in the state. The annual Wisconsin Conservation Congress annual spring meetings will be held in every county in the state at 7 p.m. April 14.

• On the agenda, among other questions, is whether or not to create an open season on migrating tundra swans.

• From the questionnaire: “The tundra swan is the most common swan in North America and has very few predators. Wisconsin is within the range of the eastern population of tundra swans and could develop a state tundra swan hunting proposal for consideration at the flyway and federal level.”

• If you have an opinion on this topic, or any others on the agenda, you must attend the advisory meeting for the county in which you reside.

View the complete questionnaire here:
http://dnr.wi.gov/about/wcc/Documents/spring_hearing/2014/2014SpringQuestionnaire.pdf

A list of county locations for annual spring meetings can be found here:
http://dnr.wi.gov/about/wcc/Documents/spring_hearing/2014/2014locations.pdf

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The clear, icy waters of Green Lake seemed to boil with a thick steam, rising in ghostly plumes of billowing white in the crisp winter morning. Scores of ducks, along with a few holdout Canada geese, drifted on the calm waters. Among them, gleaming in bright snow white, a half-dozen trumpeter swans reigned over the small bay.

Towering over the ducks and geese, the trumpeter swan is the largest native member of the waterfowl family of ducks, geese and swans in North America.

Mostly non-migratory, trumpeter swans have been successfully reintroduced into Wisconsin’s lakes, ponds and marshes over the past 25 years, one of the most successful wildlife reintroduction programs ever coordinated in the state.

The huge birds remain close to their breeding grounds all year long, moving only as far as they need to find open water and food sources. In Wisconsin, they seek waters that traditionally don’t freeze, such as the Wisconsin River, the shores of Door County, Green Lake and others.

Swan trifecta

These magnificent birds, with their clear, deep trumpeting call and powerful size share these winter waterways with North America’s other swan species at times, creating a swan trifecta that is hard to find anywhere else on the planet.

Along the shores of Door County, as well as along open waters on the Fox River in Menasha’s Jefferson Park, all three species of North American swans could be seen together. Mute swans, considered an alien invasive pest, and the smaller native tundra swan have been spotted with trumpeters in these locations throughout winter for the past several years.

The journey home

Over the next four to six weeks, tens of thousands of smaller tundra swans that migrated to the Atlantic coast last fall will be making their return voyage west, then northwest, across our area as they move to breeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska.

This massive movement of tundra swans across the Great Lakes into northeast Wisconsin has provided decades of wonder and enjoyment to local residents who make the trek to view the swans by the thousands as they pass through in waves from Lake Huron, across to Traverse Bay, then over Lake Michigan.

On any given day in late March to early April, the skies dance with rippling wedges of tundra swans on the move.

Thousands of tundras pause along the Wolf River bottoms in Outagamie County, as well as along the western shores of Green Bay before continuing their journey home.

Swan hunt?

This year, these mighty migrants will create headlines as the state of Wisconsin considers a tundra swan hunting season at the annual Wisconsin Conservation Congress spring meetings held in each county on April 14. A storm of controversy has already begun regarding this issue, comparing it to the proposed hunt on sandhill cranes and the adopted mourning dove hunt.

Complicating the hunt issue is the presence of rare trumpeter swans in the same area as the tundras, and concerns that the trumpeters might fall victim to hunters’ guns. A quick look at the number of whooping crane shootings this season is enough to support that fear. A whooping crane in flight cannot be confused with a smaller sandhill crane, which are hunted in other states, yet several have been shot over the season, as well as in previous years.

Trumpeter swans, which were extirpated from Wisconsin in the past century, were only recently reintroduced in the past few decades, and their numbers are still increasing.

More on hunting: Hunting headlines | Browse big buck photos | Watch Deer Camp Live | More hunting photos | Registration station map

Malicious mutes

Another swan species, the mute swan, is considered an alien invasive pest in Wisconsin and many northern states. These birds, originating from Europe, are commonly seen in gardens, parks and zoos.

Mute swans are often used to deter large numbers of Canada geese from congregating on waterways at apartments and condominium complexes because of their strong territorial defense tendencies.

Their extreme defensive behavior and habit of disturbing greatly the wetlands in which they live, makes these birds unattractive to wildlife officials and biologists. Mute swans that become established in a wetland can literally tear up vast section of vegetation, both above and below the water line, destroying native habitat used by local fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals and insects.

Despite their elegance and grace, just like many non-native wildflowers and plants, these birds can be harmful to our native ecosystems and control methods are implemented yearly by the Wisconsin DNR to keep their population in check.

Browse sandhill crane, prairie chicken, snowy owl, pelican, loon, goose, eagle, whooping crane, tundra swan, heron, turkey, cardinal, blue jay, woodpecker, hummingbird and other bird photos.

— Rob Zimmer, Post-Crescent staff writer, writes about nature every Tuesday in his Nature Calling column. He is reachable at 920-419-3734 or yardmd@postcrescent.com. Follow him on Twitter @YardMD.

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