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RARE AVIAN VISITORS COMING BACK HOME TO INDIANA



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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE              Contact: (USFWS) Georgia Parham 
December 15, 1998                       812-334-4261 x 203
EA98-89                            E-mail: Georgia_Parham@mail.fws.gov
                                   Contact: (IDNR) Jon Marshall 
                                  317-232-4080
                                                                                
           
        RARE AVIAN VISITORS COMING BACK HOME TO INDIANA
                                
Trumpeter Swans Follow Ultra-light Aircraft from Canada to Southern Indiana
                                
In an experimental project reminiscent of the movie "Fly Away Home," a group of 
young trumpeter swans departed Ontario, Canada, on December 4, following an 
ultra-light aircraft to Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge in southern 
Indiana.  The flight is an attempt by the Migratory Bird Research Group, a team 
of private Canadian researchers, to establish a migrating flock of the huge 
birds in eastern North America.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Indiana 
Department of Natural Resources are providing technical assistance for the 
project.

Four young swans are making the 675-mile journey from Sudbury in southeastern 
Ontario, where researchers have been working throughout the summer and fall to 
teach them to follow an ultra-light aircraft.  Their travel route has taken them
along the east coast of Lake Huron, crossing into the United States near 
Detroit, Michigan.  The swans will follow the aircraft south into Ohio, travel 
south to near Cincinnati, and then move into Indiana along U.S. Route 50.  The 
birds' final destination is Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge near Seymour, 
Indiana, later this week.  The site was chosen for its location in the southern 
part of the trumpeter's historical range and its ideal wintering habitat. 

Although the project may seem similar to the popular movie "Fly Away Home," in 
which Canada geese were raised by humans and taught to migrate by following an 
ultra-light aircraft, Wayne Bezner Kerr, lead scientist with the Migratory Bird 
Research Group, said this project approaches the challenge in a different way.  
Past efforts involving swans, Canada geese, and endangered whooping cranes have 
relied on birds "imprinted" or closely associated with human handlers.   
According to Bezner Kerr, some of the swans being trained were not imprinted on 
humans but on adult trumpeter swans after hatching last June.

"We're experimenting with several groups of swans, some of which have been 
imprinted not on humans but on other trumpeter swans," Bezner Kerr said.  "We 
hope to learn if they will be more likely to behave like swans, maintain their 
sense of caution around humans, and successfully migrate back to Canada next 
spring."

Through a series of training steps, taking advantage of young birds' desire to 
group together and follow a leader, they are taught to follow the ultra-light 
aircraft.  They begin by following a floatplane across a lake, progress to 
taking short hops with the plane in the lead, and eventually follow the aircraft
for extended flights.

Bezner Kerr says if the birds make the journey south successfully, the next 
milestone is whether they return to Ontario next spring to nest.  "This is an 
experiment," he emphasized.  "We believe the swans will home in on a geographic 
area they see from the air.  We'll find out next spring."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's regional migratory bird chief, Steve Wilds,
says the Service is interested in the results of the experiment.  "Most 
trumpeter restoration is being carried out by states, provinces, and efforts of 
scientific organizations like the Migratory Bird Research Group," said Wilds.  
"The Service supports efforts to reestablish species like the trumpeter swan 
that need special help."

Trumpeter swans were once found throughout the United States and Canada, but 
uncontrolled hunting and loss of habitat caused the birds to decline.  Today, 
most trumpeters are found along the Pacific Coast, migrating from Alaska, along 
coastal British Columbia to southern Washington. Some trumpeters are also found 
in Great Basin regions of Alberta, Washington, Nevada, Montana, and Wyoming.  In
the Midwest, they once ranged as far south as Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.  
Restoration efforts are underway in several areas including Minnesota, 
Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario.  

Because their flightpath will take the trumpeters through areas where waterfowl 
hunting seasons are underway, the Service and DNR officials are cautioning 
hunters to be on the lookout for the huge white birds to avoid accidental 
shootings.  Trumpeter swans are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty 
Act, as well as by state and provincial laws.

"Swans are so much larger than other waterfowl that it is almost impossible to 
mistake them for sport-hunted birds.  We encourage all hunters to make sure of 
their target before shooting to avoid harming this protected species," said Gary
Doxtater, Director of the Indiana DNR's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Trumpeters are one of three swan species found in North America, along with the 
tundra swan and the non-native mute swan.  Trumpeters, named for their deep, 
resonating calls, are the largest waterfowl in North America and the world's 
largest swan species.  Though similar in appearance to tundra swans, trumpeters 
are nearly twice their size, weighing about 30 pounds and sporting an 8-foot 
wingspan.  Trumpeters' plumage is entirely white, and they have jet-black bills 
and feet.

The trumpeters' final destination, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, is a 
7,724-acre refuge administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  The 
refuge's lakes, ponds, and wetlands, which usually contain open water throughout
the winter, provide an excellent endpoint for the experimental migration and a 
good place for the swans to spend the winter, according to Kerr.  In addition, 
Muscatatuck has had little waterfowl hunting in the past, so spent lead shot, 
which is toxic to swans and other waterfowl, has not accumulated on the refuge. 
Muscatatuck personnel will monitor the birds throughout the winter and provide 
information to the Migratory Bird Research Group on the swans' activities.   

Birdwatchers, hunters, and others who spot a trumpeter swan in southern Indiana 
this fall and winter are encouraged to contact the Research Group via e-mail at
trumpeter.swan@sympatico.ca  or Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge at
mike_oliver@mail.fws.gov or 812-522-4352.  In addition, the birds' progress 
throughout the winter can be monitored on the Internet by accessing either the 
DNR's website at www.state.in.us/dnr/fishwild/index.htm or the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service's site at www.fws.gov/r3pao.
                                
                             -FWS-












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