Trumpeter swan restoration project

Trumpeter swan

Trumpeter swans originally graced wetlands across a broad region of North America from Illinois northwest to Alaska. Throughout the 17- and 1800s, swans were hunted for their meat, skins and feathers. At the same time trumpeter swan habitat diminished as settlers moved across North America. By the 1880s, trumpeter swans disappeared from Minnesota. By the 1930s, only 69 trumpeter swans remained in the lower 48 states, living in the remote Red Rock Lakes area in southwestern Montana.

Bringing back the trumpeter swan - A timeline


To prevent the trumpeter swan from going extinct, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established.


Hennepin County Park Reserve District, (now Three Rivers Park District) obtained 40 swans from Red Rock Lakes to establish a breeding flock. Swans begin nesting in Minnesota for the first time in nearly 80 years.


The Trumpeter Swan Society forms to promote the restoration of trumpeter swans across their historical range.


The Nongame Wildlife Program is created.


The Minnesota legislature passes the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff law.


Minnesota citizens donate over $500,000 via the checkoff line on their tax forms.


The first donations received by the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff become available and the Nongame Wildlife Program joins the effort to accelerate the restoration of trumpeter swans in Minnesota.


Nongame Wildlife Program acquires eggs from Red Rock Lake and Lacreek National Wildlife Refuges, the Minnesota and Brookfield (Chicago) Zoos and private propagators.


Nongame Wildlife Program obtains a permit to gather eggs from Alaska's population of about 10,000 wild trumpeter swans; 50 eggs collected.


Nongame Wildlife Program collects eggs in both 1987 and 1988 from Alaska. The eggs are incubated and the young are reared at Minnesota's Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area.


Nongame Wildlife Program releases 21 two-year-old trumpeter swans in May near the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge in Becker County. The spring release gives swans a chance to acclimate to and imprint on their surroundings before molting and taking their first flights in July.


5 trumpeter swans are released at Swan Lake in Nicollet County. This lake, known as Manha tanka otamenda by the Sioux (“Lake-of-the-Many-Large-Birds”), is where trumpeter swans were first documented to be nesting in the United States and where they had disappeared by the middle 1800s. After over 100 years, the swans have finally returned.


Nongame Wildlife Program continues to release trumpeter swans into the wild. Swans are released in Nicollet, Becker, Itasca, and St. Louis Counties. 217 swans are released during this time.


The Minnesota DNR, Iowa DNR and North Heron Lake Game Producers Association begin a 10-year cooperative effort to restore trumpeter swans in southwestern Minnesota/northern Iowa. (Thus far, sixty-two swans have been released in southwestern Minnesota.)


Nongame Wildlife Program and Minnesota Zoo staff document first trumpeter swan nests in southeastern Minnesota since the 1880s on Lake Frances near Elysian and near French Lake in Rice County.


The Minnesota flock of trumpeter swans now consists of more than 2,000 individuals.


The Nongame Wildlife Program collaborates with Three Rivers Parks, The Trumpeter Swan Society, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Parks Service to carry out a statewide trumpeter swan count. The tally came to 17,021 swans, suggesting there are about 1,700 nesting pairs in the state.

2019Researches across five states and one Canadian province began a collaborative research project into swan movement and ecology. Swans were outfitted with GPS transmitters that recorded their locations every 15 minutes. The University of Minnesota created a website about the research where users can see the movements of collared swans throughout the years.


Current trumpeter swan population estimates are over 30,000.


The Minnesota Breeding Trumpeter Swan Survey conducted in 2022 estimates the statewide population at 51,860 swans (90% Confidence Interval: 45,530 – 58,190). The full report of this survey can be found on our research reports site (PDF), with references to additional statewide, regional and national population trend information and resources.


Since the first trumpeter swan releases in 1987, the Nongame Wildlife Program has released more than 350 swans. Similar work to restore trumpeter swans in South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Ontario has brought North America's interior population to over 63,000.

If you are interested in reading more about the trumpeter swan restoration project, check out the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer article “Visions of Swans” by Carrol Henderson.

Thanks to the work of many agencies and organizations and generous donations from Minnesota taxpayers to the Nongame Wildlife Checkoff Fund, trumpeter swans are home again.

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