National Geographic : 1960 Jul
the first of the two lakes. Now we drove the last eight miles to the 7 L Ranch, whose owners, Andy and June Forsythe, helped us stow our gear in a comfortable log cabin. After supper I explained my plans. When I undertook the Geographic assign ment, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service had granted me a seldom-given permit to photo graph and study the trumpeters closely, just as it had done previously in the case of other rare species of birds.* In addition, the service had generously loaned me an advance copy of its publica tion, "The Trumpeter Swan," by Winston E. Banko, to give me valuable history and sta tistics. The trumpeter swan (Olor buccinator) was a fairly common bird in colonial times. Trum peters wintered as far south as California, Texas, Louisiana, and North Carolina, and most of them probably migrated to northern Canada to raise their broods. Winter Feeding Keeps Flocks Alive During the 19th century the birds were slaughtered for their beautiful plumage to provide adornments, powder puffs, and down coverings. By 1900 the species was nearly extinct. Only a few pairs in Yellowstone National Park were protected, thanks to the act of Congress covering all wildlife within the park. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 legally guarded all trumpeters in our country from hunters. But it was almost too late. In 1931, four years before the Red Rock refuge was established, only 35 of the great birds were seen in the United States. Thereafter the swan population slowly in creased, thanks to protection of the breeding ground and an important change in the swans' migration habits. They had begun to avoid perilous long flights and to remain instead in and around Centennial Valley. Here, supplemental winter feeding in the open water by the Fish and Wildlife Service is essential. Each winter, refuge personnel put out about a thousand bushels of wheat and barley, doling out the grain in twice-weekly installments. Now the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the trumpeters in the United States, ex cluding Alaska, number nearly 700. Yet I believe a single calamity-an epidemic dis ease, lack of food, or nesting failure for one reason or another-could wipe out nearly all these magnificent birds south of Canada. Shooting of other waterfowl is still per 138 Trumpeter in profile shows her "grin line," mitted on Lower Red Rock Lake during the hunting season. The swans are legally pro tected, but there is the ever-present danger of one of them being shot accidentally. And lead pellets eaten by them have been found in the stomachs of dead swans. Altogether there are approximately 1,500 trumpeter swans in the world. This includes roughly 700 in Canada and about 100 in the Copper River region of southern Alaska. In contrast, the smaller whistling swans (Olor columbianus) are estimated at 80,000 along the Atlantic and Pacific flyways. * See "Whooping Cranes Fight for Survival," by Robert Porter Allen, with photographs by Frederick K. Truslow, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, November, 1959.