As I was cleaning bluebird boxes at Voas Nature Area on a blustery February morning, I heard a muffled honk carried by the squalls of snow. Farm machinery, barking dogs, geese?
Thirteen snow white, refrigerator-sized birds appeared at roof height from the swirling flakes. A flock of trumpeter swans flew overhead, so near that I could hear the wind whistling over their wings.
Historically, trumpeter swans nested across the Midwest, including Iowa. Hunters extirpated the birds from Iowa in 1883. They continued to decline nationally, with only 69 trumpeter swans remaining in the lower 48 states.
In 1993 the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, along with other conservation organizations, created a plan to restore a population to Iowa’s wetlands. The project was a success, and now there are several areas in Dallas County where swans can be viewed, including west of Waukee on Highway 6 in agricultural fields.
Although the population is expanding in Iowa, the ingestion of lead shot is a threat to the health of these stealthy yet graceful birds.
Mike Havlik is a naturalist in the Dallas County Conservation Department.