The comeback of the Trumpeter Swan
And a look at a Black Rail.
In the E.B. White classic “Trumpet of the Swan,” a young boy named Sam develops a friendship with a Trumpeter Swan named Louis. It’s a beautifully written book that belongs on the shelf of any nature lover. It takes some fantastical turns—Louis learns to write and play a trumpet (because he didn’t have a voice)—but it’s really a paean to swans and the majesty of their nesting areas in Montana.
Trumpeter Swans hadn’t bred in Illinois for 150 years until a pair nested in Carroll County in May 2006. The story is chronicled by Sheryl DeVore in a May 2008 article for Outdoor Illinois.
The Trumpeter Swan is the largest of all North American waterfowl and the largest swan in the world. Its wings adorned with snowy white feathers, spread up to 8 feet wide (compared with the 3.5-foot wide wing spread of the snow goose). A deep-black bill contrasts with its white feathers. The swan’s long neck, used to dip into the water to retrieve aquatic delicacies, sometimes gets stained with a rusty color if iron is in the water. It gets its name from the brassy trumpet-like sound given when alarmed or to attract a mate and guard its territory.
As the swan’s wetland habitat got filled in and the demand grew for its meat, eggs and feathers (to adorn European ladies’ hats), the population plummeted. By the end of the 19th century, this species was thought to have become extirpated from the United States.
Thanks to captive rearing programs, Trumpeter Swans have become an increasingly familiar sight in Illinois and across the Midwest. The greatest threats they face today are the lead shot that remains at the bottom of wetlands (lead shot has since been banned).
I spent some time with this swan and another one (presumably its mate) at a protected area in Lake County, Ill., last week. The two birds spent most of their time dipping to reach vegetation at the bottom of the pond. They would then take some time to preen closer to shore. With cranes calling nearby, it was a peaceful scene. Like something right out of “Trumpet of the Swan.”
Here’s a 53 second video of the swans:
A mighty mite indeed
The Black Rail was American Bird Conservancy’s Bird of the Week on Oct. 14. This species is a gap on my life list, as I imagine it is for most birders. There are only 7,000 or so sightings reported alltime on eBird.
American Bird Conservancy writes:
A sparrow-sized rail that is perhaps the most elusive member of the most elusive family of birds. This species is categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and is listed as a “Tipping Point” species in the 2022 State of the Birds report, meaning it has lost 50 percent or more of its population in the past 50 years and is on track to lose another 50 percent in the next five decades if nothing changes. Just another reason to support organizations like ABC that do so much to track and protect our very vulnerable birds.
I don’t think I’d ever seen video of Black Rail until ABC’s post. I can only imagine what it took to get these images: