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One swan’s story

January 15, 2016   ·   0 Comments

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been mesmerized by a trumpeter swan family peacefully drifting on a lake or in a wetland.
Little balls of fluff by their side, teaching those cygnets as they grow to fly, survive and then heading south. One can get hooked very quickly on their beauty, watching them perform their parental skills with love.
The heart they form as they bob their heads up and down in excitement at breeding time. What a show of affection, the honking that accompanies this is spectacular to hear. There is no mistaking a swan.
Trumpeters are the largest of our waterfowl species that are native to North America and are a protected species. A quote from Kyna Intini of the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program states:
“The North American population including the Ontario Trumpeter Swans was decimated by hunting for the fur trade in the 1700 to late 1800’s, with the last recorded bird in Ontario shot at Long Point in 1886. The Ontario population was extirpated for almost 100 years, until in 1982 the restoration program was begun by retired MNR biologist Harry Lumsden. His objective was, ‘to restore the species to as much of its former range as possible.’ It has been a long road since then, but in a recent 2015 survey, the southern Ontario population stands at 1000 birds.”
As I mentioned, a very large bird weighing approximately 21 to 30 pounds but can reach 35 cannot be mistaken for anything else.
About 50 per cent of swan cygnets make it to their first year of life. They can live upwards to 30 years.
The swan I am going to tell you about was 9 years old. Lonesome was his name. He was banded. Giving us all this information on him. He hatched in 2006, banded as an adult male on January 9th 2008 at La Salle in Burlington and was adopted by someone through the Wye Marsh adopt a swan program. He had no known mate.
He had lost his yellow wing tags, so unless you see the band and can get that number it is hard to tell if a swan has in fact been banded. Unfortunately Lonesome’s innocent life was shortened. Somewhere around the 29th of November someone walking through Tiny Marsh, about an hour in a half or so north of Toronto spotted Lonesome. This marsh has a sign clearly stating it is illegal to hunt swans as they are protected under the Migratory Bird Act, and the consequences if caught doing so. This person took a photo and posted it on a Facebook page. His wing was clearly broken. Nobody did anything. A week went by. People watched him and commented amongst themselves so we are told. Nothing still. He moved very little from his spot near the heavy reeds and grasses. He was safer from predators here. Then, a friend of mine, Dawn Lewis, saw the photo. A week had passed. Maybe longer. No one knows how long Lonesome was out there injured. I called people who lived close to start a monitoring program. I sent photos to Andrew Wight, the rescue team leader at Toronto Wildlife Center. They are set up with rescue staff and can do actual rescues. The swan was excessively preening one side, a sign something was wrong. It was not moving very far for at least a couple weeks. Another sign. And it wasn’t joining other swans nearby. I spoke to Kyna Intini from the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program who starts and maintains the swan records, bands and rehabilitates them. She had no record of it having a mate as it never returned to La Salle to winter after being banded. So it may have had a mate. One lone swan with one cygnet was wandering close by a couple of times. But Lonesome wanted nothing to do with them. He was suffering a lot. I went up day before rescue date. He was not good.
Toronto Wildlife Center came on Friday, December 11th at 11:30 a.m. A beautiful day unlike Decembers I can remember. Mild, no snow. Perfect rescue weather.
One canoe and one kayak entered the water’s edge off the main dyke called (Trotters). Andrew Wight and Stacey Freeman loaded their gear and were off. They had to paddle against the wind to the other far side were the swan was located. However strong young arms and determination got them there pretty quickly. They were on a mission.
They found the swan as we stood on shore at Mole Mountain directing them to its location. Out of the boats and into the tall grasses. Nets in hand. Rescue was in motion. A very difficult rescue for all. But a success.
Lonesome was not very strong and gave in to Andrew’s big net after a small chase back in the water. Meeting back at the main dyke as Andrew paddled in, exhausted, with precious cargo wrapped in a sheet and tucked gently but firmly between his legs. His first comment was “this Tiny Marsh is not so tiny”. Big smile on his exhausted face. His job was done, that part was over. Stacey followed in behind wet and tired. They loaded Lonesome who put up no fight. The team with swan on board headed to Toronto were veterinarians and staff were awaiting their arrival. Director of Toronto Wildlife Center Nathalie Karvonen told me:
“It’s so awful to think of how this swan suffered as a result of being shot. I’m glad our rescue team was able to help capture the swan, but sorry that the injuries were so severe that the swan could not be saved. Our medical team was standing by and ready to help if they could have.”
Another quote from Becky McMurray one of their wildlife rehabilitation supervisors said:
“The swan was in terrible condition; the humorous was broken and badly displaced, and there was about 3 cm of exposed bone that was necrotic. It was heartbreaking to see since we knew it was an injury that was not surgically repairable.”
Nathalie told me: “it’s hard for us to figure out exact costs for this situation without doing a lot of work. Andrew and I estimate $500 to $1,000, all in”
The swan named Lonesome had to be euthanized. A total waste of an innocent life. I am not pointing any fingers at hunters. This is not about that. This incident was reported to MNRF. We are volunteers of Tiny Marsh and watch over it carefully on our journeys. We will watch over it closer now. Someone shot this swan. People need to be aware, to report things, to help an animal/bird in need. There is help out there for animals in distress. John Turnbull, president of the MTM Conservation graciously donated the use of one of their canoes and backed us up 110 per cent. A swan is a protected species. Charges can be laid and equipment seized. If people had of reported this bird earlier it would not have suffered so long. It had sepsis. An infection it would have died from. A horrible painful death. Lonesome did not have to suffer.
Look up your local wildlife rehabilitation numbers and write them down. Carry them on you or in your car. Get involved. Report to MNRF. In this case contacting MTM and reporting the incident would have gotten action. Go online and find the information you may need one day. It could save a life. But at best it could save a life from horrible suffering.
Donations are still going into Toronto Wildlife Center for this rescue. We all donated. You can send money in or donate online to help this wildlife center or others in your area to make sure they are there when you need them. They are not funded by government. They depend on us. Don’t let this swans loss of life be in vain. Be aware and speak up!
Thanks to Andrew and Stacey and TWC, Lonesome passed peacefully in warmth with loving hands surrounding him. He will no longer suffer. A big thank you to the Toronto wildlife Center, MTM Conservation and all the volunteers who helped me to monitor this swan.

By Jennifer Howard

Jennifer - swan


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