For the Birds Radio Program: Uh, Don't Shoot Swans

Original Air Date: Oct. 21, 1987

Apparently hunters need to be told not to shoot swans. (3:53) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Trumpeter Swan)

I just received a news release from the Minnesota DNR reminding hunters not to shoot swans. Now it’s inconceivable to me that some people who sit out in marshes with loaded guns hoping to shoot waterfowl don’t know a goose from a swan. I know that Snow Geese and swans are both basically white, but there’s still a huge difference between them. Swans have much longer necks than Snow Geese, and Snow Geese show conspicuous black primary feathers in flight where swans are pure white. Their calls are completely different, too. Snow Geese call like this:

(Recording of Snow Geese)

Tundra Swans used to be called Whistling Swans for their call:

(Recording of a Tundra Swan)

And there’s no mistaking the call of a Trumpeter Swan:

(Recording of a Trumpeter Swan)

Then there’s the little matter of size. A Snow Goose is about 2 feet long with a 4-foot wingspan and weighs under 6 pounds. A Tundra Swan is over 4 feet long with a wingspan up to 6 feet, and weighs a good 15 pounds. And a Trumpeter Swan, the largest of all North American wildfowl, is over 5 feet long with a wingspan up to 7 feet, and weighs well over 20 pounds.

Snow Geese are game birds in Minnesota and Wisconsin. That means they’re protected and managed by law, and only licensed hunters may shoot at them. Swans are too rare to be hunted in the United States south of Alaska, where some natives are allowed to take whistlers. But swans are regularly shot by mistake in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The Trumpeter Swan used to be widespread throughout North America until market hunting in the 1800’s brought it to the verge of extinction. This spectacular bird was killed for its skin, used for powder puffs, down covers, and hats; its feathers, which decorated ladies’ hats; and its meat. Young swans were shot or caught before they could fly, and eggs were collected to supply restaurants. By the year 1900, the Trumpeter Swan was almost extinct, and by the 1930’s, only 66 swans could be found in the U.S., all in the vicinity of Yellowstone Park. These swans were carefully protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and, thanks to the amazing procreative capacity of waterfowl, managed to increase and multiply until they were taken off the federal list of endangered species in 1968, when their population was estimated at between 4- and 5,000 birds.

The trumpeters being re-introduced to the Midwest are descended from those last 66 birds in Yellowstone. In 1985, it cost the DNR about $1200 per cygnet to release these spectacular birds, and now, thanks to lead poisoning and other problems, it costs more like $3,000. When two hunters each killed a trumpeter at Carlos Avery Wildlife Area near Forest Lake, Minnesota, they were each fined $500 plus $55 court costs, and were also required to pay an additional $1200 to the DNR Nongame Wildlife Fund to replace the birds.Current restitution charges are $3,000 plus a hunter faces stiff fines and possible confiscation of their shotgun. So not only is killing a swan a display of ignorance, stupidity, or supreme selfishness–it can also hurt mightily in the pocketbook. I urge all waterfowl hunters listening to be sure you know how to tell a swan from a goose, or you may end up eating crow.

(Recording of a Trumpeter Swan)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”