Monday was a great day. Why, you ask? Because our first lead-poisoned Trumpeter swan of the season got to go home!!
We admit 30-35 Trumpeter Swans every year and about half have lead toxicity. Of those, very few survive. That is why it was so exciting that this one made it. This swan was actually our 1st lead-poisoned swan of the season: It was admitted way back in late September! (our lead “season” runs from fall through the winter, so it actually straddles a calendar year)
Lead toxicity can take a long time to resolve, since the lead continually leeches out of the bones and soft tissues of the bird for many weeks or even months. This was the case with this swan. Its lead levels would drop, we would take it off medications, and then the lead levels would rise again. We would put it back on meds, and the cycle would repeat. Its lead level finally “plateaued” and after three successive weeks of testing, the lead levels remained the same. The swan was doing great, so it was time for it to go and get a second chance at life in the wild!
Before release, it was banded with a USFWS band. This way, scientists can keep track of the swan for years to come, and if for some reason it has another issue down the road, we will know that we have had this bird in our care before. Here is a photo of the swan being banded (our vet tech Katie Heino is holding the swan):
We then transported the swan to Monticello for release. There is a large population of swans that over-winter there on the Mississippi River in the open water with a readily-available food source, so it’s the perfect release site. There were about 2,000+ swans when we arrived!
After the swan came out of the carrier, it had a slight moment of confusion and started walking toward the shoreline instead of into the water with the other swans! But with some coaxing, it finally got the idea and paddled off where it joined the thousands of other swans.
Because the swan had been with us for so long, its flight feathers are not in the greatest condition (they take a beating when they’re enclosed). However, it has a safe place with other swans to reside while its new feathers grow in.
We also released another young swan at the same time, one that had come in a couple of weeks ago. That swan did NOT have lead poisoning, but was just very weak and thin. That swan had actually come from Monticello. Here it is swimming off to rejoin its friends and family. Right after this picture was taken, it took off flying, did a couple of laps around the other swans, and then landed in the water again. It was a really neat sight to see!
Swan releases are probably my favorite animal to release since they are unfortunately few and far between. I am so grateful that we were able to give these two a second chance!