Fly Away Home, Part 2:
After an absence of nearly 200 years, the East Coast is one step closer to restoration of trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) with the recent hatching of seven cygnets at a scientific center in Warrenton, Virginia.
A significant problem has been that restoration programs (starting from pinioned swans) have not taken into account the fact that young swans learn a traditional route when they first migrate with their parents to the wintering grounds. Thus, the restored populations (like the resident Canada Geese that are present throughout the year) are mostly non-migratory. If they do move, they scout in small numbers to unpredictable places. Scientists from Environmental Studies at Airlie, VA and leaders of Defenders of Wildlife said today that the births of these new swans mark the inauguration of a unique, unprecedented restoration program. Separated from their natural parents prior to hatching, the new swans have been imprinted on biologist Gavin Shire and his fellow scientists at Airlie in hopes of teaching them a predetermined, safe experimental migration route to the eastern shore of Maryland this fall.
The historic journey will expand upon the ultralight aircraft migration training techniques pioneered by Canadian metal sculptor Bill Lishman and Dr. William Sladen, director of Environmental Studies. These techniques are now world-famous in part due to the popular, fictionalized movie, Fly Away Home and from the segment on ABC's Newsmagazine 20/20. Dr. Sladen, the role model for Dr. Killiam in the movie, notes that, "The ultralights were initially employed to determine whether Canada geese could be taught to migrate by following humans flying in an ultralight. We will now use this technique to take the next logical step by teaching more imperilled species, such as the trumpeter, where to migrate. We are gratified to see the cygnets growing and following the scientists here."
The recently formed joint conservation venture between Environmental Studies and Defenders of Wildlife is known as the Migratory Bird Project. Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen said, "We are celebrating this unique partnership to bring the trumpeter swan back to the East. The program is exciting for many reasons including the fact that this swan is the largest and most magnificent species of North American waterfowl. In addition, the program would achieve the first recovery of a species after such an extended absence, by utilizing the newest technologies, while being carried out through a partnership between scientific and advocacy organizations."
Once present throughout the entire North American continent, save the Arctic tundra, the trumpeter swan's melodious call disappeared from the Atlantic flyway soon after European colonization. This great white bird, with an all-black bill, vanished as a result of commercial feather collection, hunting, and agricultural conversion of wetlands. The bird was an early victim to fashionable society's need for powder puffs and feathered hats. By 1932 only 69 trumpeter swans were known to exist in the lower 48 states.
Dr. Sladen, who has been studying the wintering tundra swan on the Chesapeake Bay for 30 years says, "The trumpeter, perhaps as many as 100,000 strong, shared the Bay with these tundras two centuries ago, but they were completely wiped out by the early settlers." Dr. Sladen continues, "We have high hopes for these cygnets that Gavin Shire and his dedicated team are raising. These animals are the pioneers - we hope the first of many - that will echo the loud trumpets across the waters of the Eastern Shore."
Trumpeters are unlikely to return to the eastern seaboard on their own because migration routes are passed from one generation to the next and the bird has been extinct in the region. Restoring an eastern population will ensure the long-term survival of the species because remaining populations elsewhere in the lower 48 states, most of which are non-migratory, are vulnerable to such perils as the continued loss of wintering habitat and the concentration of wintering flocks at relatively few sites. Trumpeter swans will also help increase diversity to the critically important wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay.
Defenders' President Schlickeisen noted, "Defenders is proud to work with Dr. Sladen's team at Airlie and cooperatively use this ultralight technology to help trumpeter swans and whooping cranes that have somehow lost their way."
Bob Ferris, director of Defenders' species conservation division, added, "This is a perfect marriage of Defenders' action-oriented wildlife advocacy and the technical skills of the staff at Environmental Studies. In this project Defenders will draw heavily on our successful experiences with the Yellowstone wolf recovery effort to find solutions that work for humans and for wildlife."
With the required state and federal permits in hand, the Migration Project's present plan is to establish an experimental migration of trumpeters from the Environmental Studies headquarters at Airlie Center's Sanctuary in the Virginia horse country to the historic Lake Cove Farm, a Defenders-staffed facility near Crapo on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
About Defenders of Wildlife:
Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities. Defenders' programs focus on what scientists consider two of the most serious environmental threats to the planet: the accelerating rate of extinction of species and associated loss of biological diversity, and habitat alteration and destruction. Long known for our leadership on endangered species issues, Defenders of Wildlife also advocates new approaches to wildlife conservation that will help keep species from becoming endangered.
About Environmental Studies:
Environmental Studies at Airlie Center near Warrenton, Virginia is concerned with the protection and enhancement of native flora and fauna and promoting biological diversity for the enrichment of human life. The Swan Research Program at Airlie uses swans as ambassadors to create an awareness of the importance of wetlands; encourages the tundra swan to winter in the area; seeks the restoration of the rare trumpeter swan to its former wintering grounds in Virginia and Maryland; and discourages the further spread of the alien mute swans and eventually replacing them in the wild with native swans.
To make a contribution and for more information: Contributions for the project can be sent to the Migratory Bird Project c/o Defenders of Wildlife 1101 Fourteenth St, NW, Suite 1400, Washington, DC 20005. For information on the Migratory Bird Project contact Defenders of Wildlife at (202) 682-9400. For more information on the Trumpeter Swan Project or for information on volunteering, contact Environmental Studies, 7078 Airlie Road, Warrenton, VA 20187 or call (540) 341-3239 or (540) 349-1493.
Contact(s):Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270