If you were driving up Squaw Pass Road recently and nearly had an accident because you thought you saw three swans on the second pond in Noble Meadow, have no fear: You are not flipping out. There really are three swans on the pond.
A few years ago, someone on Upper Bear Creek fooled everyone into stopping, only to have them discover the swans on the ponds didn’t move; they were plastic. These on Squaw Pass Road, however, are indeed alive, but they are not wild migrating swans. They are trumpeter swans that the owners of that pond and the nearby house, Phil and Diana Young, have released in hopes that they will breed there and thus increase the trumpeter swan population. Within a short period of time, they plan to also release a black swan from Australia.
Trumpeter swans are native swans that at one time bred in a much greater area than they do today, mostly in the Western states and Canada. Hunted for food, they declined until only a few remained. These were mostly in the Yellowstone area.
In the meantime, people with ponds in the eastern part of the country had been importing the graceful European mute swan into parks, cemeteries and private ponds with great success. They did so well, in fact, that the swans started breeding in the wild and became relatively common along the Atlantic Coast and in small ponds and lakes across the Eastern states.
Unfortunately, mute swans are very aggressive, especially around their nests. They attack anyone who comes near their nest with amazing ferocity. This resulted in many children, dogs, walkers and beachcombers being seriously injured by attacking swans. This led to discussions on how to provide people with the beauty of swans in public parks and cemeteries without the threat of their being attacked.
About this same time, there was an important movement to remove imported species from the wild and replace them with native species that for various reasons had declined. With this goal in mind, many state, federal and private agencies began removing mute swans and replacing them with our native trumpeter swans. This has been quite successful in some areas. The trumpeter swans have bred in many of the areas where they were released originally, and these wing-clipped birds stay put since trumpeter swans are not very migratory. We do rarely see wild trumpeter swans in fall and winter in Colorado. These are migrants from farther north that move south as lakes and ponds freeze over. They do not migrate far, staying in any area where they can find warm springs or rapidly moving water that does not freeze. Trumpeter swans are the largest swan; they weigh as much as 30 pounds. They, too, defend their nest sites but otherwise are more docile than mute swans. In 1953 it was thought that only 73 trumpeter swans remained in the United States, with a few more in Canada and Alaska. Thanks to breeding programs, strict protection and enough habitats, they have increased and it is no longer feared that they will become extinct.
Whistling swans are also native swans that are seen regularly in spring and fall migration in Colorado. They do not stay long but can be seen on Barr Lake, Chatfield Reservoir, Bowles Lake and other lakes across the state when they need to rest briefly during migration. They nest on the Arctic tundra and winter offshore along the Pacific and mid-Atlantic coasts. Whistling swans are smaller, weighing only about 20 pounds, and have a wingspan of only about 4 to 5 feet. They are a more delicate-appearing bird than the trumpeters, and their voice is higher pitched.
It will be interesting to see if the trumpeter swans do well here under the Youngs’ protection. My concern would be that the winter might be too cold for them some years and that there is no cover around this pond in which to conceal a nest or, for that matter, to supply nesting material. But perhaps the Youngs plan to keep them inside after the pond freezes over and to supply them with both food and nesting material. It certainly would be an added attraction to see these beautiful birds in our area.