Towers Help Scientists Track and Save Endangered Trumpeter Swans

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Prior to the 1960s, the trumpeter swan, which had historically flourished across North America from Illinois northwest to Alaska, were all but extinct, reported the Grand Forks Herald. About sixty years ago, Minnesota began efforts to reintroduce the fledgling swans into its habitat. Today, a doctoral student from the University of Minnesota is tracking the growing swan population with some help from towers.

Since little is known about this fowl’s migration patterns, tracking is a critical component of David Wolfson’s study. “An important aspect of the ecology of wildlife species is to understand annual movements and migration pathways,” Wolfson said. “That can help you make management decisions and understand how to conserve animal species.”

The Herald reported that Wolfson is leading a multi-year study to fit approximately 40 trumpeter swans across the state with GPS tracking collars to learn more about their movements, mortality risks, and habitat use. Wolfson and wildlife technician Tori Drake, are working together this summer to affix the tracking collars to swans across Minnesota, including in the Roseau River Wildlife Management Area. 

The 5E collars, which cost about $1,200 each, capture data points every 15 minutes and download the information to a cell tower either daily or as service becomes available. “Connections can be sparse, but [the collar] can store a lot of information on board the unit and then transmit the batch once the collar is within reception of a cell tower,” Wolfson said.

The study is a partnership between the Minnesota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit of the U.S. Geological Survey and several collaborators, including the University of Minnesota, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Twin Cities-based Three Rivers Park District and the Trumpeter Swan Society. The Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund is funding the project in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others. Similar studies are also underway in Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Manitoba, tracking up to 100 swans fitted with the GPS collars, Wolfson said.

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