Swans ready to hit the airwaves soon

TRUMPETER SWANS (Cygnus buccinator) represent a wildlife management success story. Once on the brink of being lost as a species, this magnificent bird has come back. That is great news. In fact, several years ago, the Iowa DNR phased out its participation in swan recovery and turned it over to private sector operations. Many state lands continue to contribute to swan nesting successes. Likewise, many county conservation lands offer wetland or lake/pond sites that help swans nest and rear the young of the year.

The state program for swans officially ran for 18 years, ending in 2011. The goal was to assist wild swans and some captive flock swans to nest and rear their cygnets. The cygnets were allowed to become free flyers, able to migrate with other wild stock. Even some of the young cygnets were transported to the northwest part of Arkansas for release there. Once they learned to fly at that site, they imprinted on that location. Some of these birds will call that area home. Others will find their niche in other places.

Trumpeters were once common in Iowa. However, by the early 1930s, just 69 trumpeter swans remained in the continental United States. Iowa’s program began in 1993 to assist with recovery efforts. The first wild nest was documented in 1998 after an absence of many decades. The previous last known wild nesting swans was in 1883 on what is now the Twin Lakes Wildlife Area southwest of Belmond in Hancock County.

Marshall County became a cooperating partner in swan recovery in the late 1990s. What a success this was, providing a nesting site that was as safe as possible from predators and allowing the public to see and learn about these biggest flying waterfowl. Numerous school groups and wildlife organizations assisted in the financial backing for the project. When is came to leg banding time, school groups that could make it were allowed to watch, hold and participate in aluminum leg band placement.

Studies of wild free flying Trumpeter Swans have documented their travels to wintering grounds in northeast and east central Kansas. In addition, swans have turned up in northwest and west-central Missouri. One swan made a trip to Oklahoma in 1999-2000. Three swans released in north-central Iowa at Union Slough National Wildlife Area migrated to southeast Colorado near the City of Ft. Lyon.

Where the crop of 2013 cygnets from Green Castle will finally call home is unknown. What is known is that these birds have a rich legacy behind them, and a great future ahead of them. People have helped in this cause directly and indirectly through purchase of hunting licenses, habitat fees, waterfowl stamps both state and federal, and contributions to state check-off tax incentive programs. Hopefully you were one of the above. If not, it is not too late to help the cause for T. Swans as they grace the Iowa skies again.

This scribe was asked recently if I’d seen any ringnecked pheasants. Answer: yes. Not many but several. It is good to know they are hanging on within the landscape. Each sighting was near tall grass prairie plantings. Each sighting was more of a chance encounter than a planned event. This tall heavy cover of grasses is ideal for pheasants to survive is a landscape otherwise quite devoid of what they require to make a living. Pheasants Forever chapters across Iowa and the Midwest are working for long term habitat plantings. Every bit of permanent grass, shrubby cover planting, food plots and winter shelter helps pheasants and many other wildlife critters.

Iowa farming practices are not going to return to a typical farm operation that once existed in the 1940s, 50s or 60s. Those highlight years for pheasants are distant memories for those of us old enough to remember the “good old days.” It was not hard at all to take a three bird limit of rooster pheasants in a few hours of hunting. The birds seemed to be everywhere that cover existed. And there was a lot of cover in the form of grassy draws, weedy field margins or fence rows and old orchard tree cover. Times have changed. Our landscape is increasing maximized for crop production. Such is the trade-off. Such is reality. But within pockets of habitat on private and public land, the rooster pheasant is not calling it quits. It will attempt to survive. Mother Nature can help with less than 30 inches of snow during an Iowa winter. She can help by not having severe cold and blizzard conditions. She can help by a giving us a “mild” winter season. She can help by holding off on heavy rains come springtime. She can help by doing all the above … for at least three or more consecutive years. That is this scribes order that I placed with Mother Nature. Time will tell if she listened to me. If she does, I’ll gladly take the credit. If she doesn’t, well maybe I should have prayed a bit harder. In the meantime, assisting the local PF chapter with habitat programs and projects seems to be time and money well spent.

Do wild birds need our backyard feeders to survive? Not really. Do we think we are making a difference if we do feed birds where we can observe them close to our windows – yes. Feeding birds is big business. Watching wildlife rates as a top outdoor activity according to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. More than 750,000 Iowans are estimated to watch and feed wildlife. Most of the money spent is for bird watching, an amount in excess of $300 million, on bird seed, suet, feeders and other bird friendly supplies. It is a great pastime.

Now is a great time to set up feeding stations, clean old ones and lay in a supply of one of the best food sources … black sunflower seed. It has a high fat content, usually about 38 percent. This food source is really helpful during severe cold spells in the winter time. A well-established feeding site and good food will create one stop shopping for the feathered critters that call Iowa home all year long. And it will serve those birds that only come this far south during their winter migration.

For more information, one can contact Pat Schlarbaum, Wildlife Diversity technician at the Wildlife Bureau of the Iowa DNR. Feel free to call him at 515-432-2823.

HUNTING is one big part of the conservation equation. How many hunters are out there? According to the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that for those age 16 or more that were required to purchase hunting licenses, there are at least 13.7 million hunters. They collectively contribute into the economy $38.3 billion in total expenditures. Those expenditures drive $86.9 billion in overall economic output. In addition this equates to $26.4 billion in salaries and wages, 680,937 jobs, $ 5.4 billion in state and local taxes and $6.4 billion in federal taxes.

Here are some other quick ways to look at this data. Americans spend more than 282 million days hunting. Sportsmen contribute nearly $8 million per day to support wildlife conservation and wildlife agencies. As of 2012, hunters and target shooters paid more than $7.2 billion in excise taxes through the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act since its passage in 1937. U.S. hunters outnumber the populations of 46 states. Only Florida, New York, Texas and California

have more residents than the combined population of U.S. hunters. Hunting brought in more revenue ($38.3 billion) than Google ($37.9 billion) or Goldman Sachs Group ($36.8 billion). If hunting were a company, the amount spent by sportsmen in their activities would place it number 73 on the Fortune 500 list.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.