Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version

November 1978


Published in Natural History 87:9 (November 1978), pp. 72-77. Used by permission of the American Museum of Natural History.


Largest of all the swans and heaviest of North American birds, the trumpeter swan is on the increase. Once common and widespread over much of the western United States, the bird was a winter resident of the lower reaches of the Mississippi Valley, Louisiana, and Texas. During the last century, however, trade in swan-skins—-used to make powder puffs and writing and drawing quills—-and the sale of eggs to collectors had a heavy impact on the species. In the period from 1853 to 1877, for example, London sales of trumpeter swan-skins imported through the Hudson's Bay Company totaled nearly 18,000, an average of about 750 per year. Destruction of their prairie habitat and increased disturbance also took a heavy toll of these shy birds. By the time the species came under the complete protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, many ornithologists believed that the species was doomed to extinction.

There are now between 4,000 and 5,000 trumpeter swans all told. Without doubt, other refuges in the Great Plains could sup¬port breeding populations of this magnificent bird once its proper habitat—-the remaining marshlands of the Great Plains, not some mountain lake—-is recognized.

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