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Trumpeter swans: Hudson’s premier winter attraction

Up up and away, adult trumpeter swans take flight from open water on the St. Croix River Monday afternoon. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Margaret A. Ontl)1 / 4
Along with ducks and geese, the swans take refuge along the shore line. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Margaret A. Ontl)2 / 4
Walking on water… (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Margaret A. Ontl)3 / 4
Walking on water 2… (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Margaret A. Ontl)4 / 4

So it has been for years, on a nice winter weekend day, hundreds of people, photographers and nature enthusiasts still flock to Hudson to have a close encounter our winter flock of trumpeter swans. They are North America’s heaviest native bird and for the most part they are “the largest surviving waterfowl species on earth.”

“We have the largest wintering site in the state of Wisconsin,” said Barry Wallace, First Street resident, who has been passionately observing, recording and actively working on the swans behalf for the better part of two decades. The number of swans visiting Hudson is down from years past due to the fact that they have the choice of many areas of open water until the temperatures freeze up other locations. Hudson generally remains ice free all winter.

The Trumpeter Swan Society offers this information about the swans.

Family bonds and traditions: Trumpeter swan survival is based on a foundation of strong family bonds and crucial learned patterns of habitat use (traditions) acquired by associating with older more experienced birds, usually family members. Trumpeters may live 20-30 years in the wild. They usually maintain very predictable annual movement and habitat use patterns unless faced with a significant habitat change. In turn, they teach these patterns to their cygnets.

Pairs usually mate for life and return each year to the same nesting wetland, often using the same nest mound. After gaining flight in September, cygnets follow their parents to their wintering area and learn its resources and hazards while they remain with their parents through their first winter.

Wallace has watched many a swan family, tracking them by recording collar numbers.

A continuing downside to his vigilant watch over the majestic birds is the reality of lead poisoning. On Tuesday, he collected the third dead bird of the season to succumb to lead poisoning caused by eating lead sinkers.

“We have had as many as 15 to 20 die in one season,” said Wallace. “This is the time of year, when it takes hold. They are weakened by the weather and the food supply.”

Easy access to see the swans is available at the north end the walking trail along the St. Croix River. Parking is available there as well.