SCHIESS: The Trumpeters return to eastern Idaho

Living the Wild Life

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Bill Schiess,

Making my way out to the wood pile for some fuel to take the chill off the house took almost an hour as the night sounds coming from the sky turned my attention upwards. The temptation to sit in the lawn chair and enjoy the sounds of migrating large flocks of waterfowl was too hard to resist.

The trips to the wood pile has become more of an excuse rather than a necessity during late October and early November especially just before or after a storm. Sandhill cranes were the first of the big birds to head south. Then came the high flying and non-stopping snow geese and Tundra swans.

Bill Schiess,

But my favorite are the non-political trumpeting of the Trumpeter swan as they migrate from above the Arctic Circle and Yellowstone National Park to winter in the Upper Snake River Valley. Unlike the other big birds, Trumpeters do not migrate in large flocks, but in family or extended family groups.

Over the last three weeks the Trumpeters have been seen gathering on area ponds while others have been going out in area fields to eat their favorite winter food – frozen rotten potatoes. From 30 to 100 have been coming into a field along Poleline Road on the hill just south of Rexburg. Adults and cygnets (gray bodied birds) can be observed digging and eating their Thanksgiving delicacies a little early.

Last week on a trip to some ponds west of Roberts, I watched a mixed bag of waterfowl on a pond half covered with thin ice. Lounging on the ice was an interesting pair of Trumpeters; one with normal black feet and the other with yellow feet – a rare case of leucism.

Bill Schiess,

Leucism is an abnormal condition in some birds and animals that prevent pigment being deposited in parts of the skin of the individual.

Leucistic trumpeters are hatched white with pink feet and bill instead of the usual gray plumage, feet and bill. The rare color phase causes the swan to remain white their entire life while the legs and bills turn yellow at adulthood. Several studies have indicated that the Trumpeters that summer in Yellowstone Park area have a higher degree of leucism than the ones from Alaska and Canada.

Trumpeters have a long life span, living between 15 to 25 years. In captivity they can live up to 32 years.

Bill Schiess,

The Upper Snake River Valley hosts a large population of Trumpeter swans during the winter. The Teton River west of Driggs, the Henrys Fork of the Snake River from St. Anthony to Island Park and the fields around Rexburg hold about a 1000 Trumpeters each winter. Deer Parks Wildlife Management fields and private fields near the “R” Mountain have had from 1,000 to 1,500 feed on the unharvested grain and corn there as well as the potatoes.

A day trip to these areas could reward you with sights and sounds of these beautiful graceful birds or an excuse to get outside after dark may treat you to a sound that would rival a symphony.

Just before the rain storm invaded the area this week, while sitting in the dark I listened to snow geese, Tundra and Trumpeter swans flying over while a Great-horned owl joined the chorus. It sure beat the political battles on TV.

Bill Schiess,