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home : columns : ron kuecker
July 11, 2020

5/20/2020 11:13:00 AM
Area's four biggest birds made big comebacks

Ron Kuecker
Outdoors Columnist

I remember well one of my first encounters with a trumpeting swan. My lookout spot was on the south shore of Lake Augusta that morning.
The sound came from the little Augusta lowland to the south, down the valley with the small creek. It was quite a racket.
Soon the lone, big swan came into sight and as the echo part disappeared, the long, lone notes could be picked up. It was a big one, probably a male announcing his presence or looking for his lady. His wings were nearly 10-feet wide and length of body including that long neck, around six feet.
He was flying low, just above the tree tops on the west side of the lake. Bright white, silhouetted against the blue sky isn't something you easily forget.
And the trumpeting, it's really an amazing sound. Some say it sounds like a French horn. My musically challenged ears wouldn't know.
Since then I have had the opportunity to do necropsies, postmortem examinations, on a couple for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The trachea, windpipe, of the trumpeter is amazing. It splits as it descends into the big bird's chest. The main air flows to the lungs. But the other branch descends into a bony, hollow area on the inside of the keel. So, when it is put to work in a voluntary manner, air flows over and through it producing the horn sound, proof positive it is a trumpeter swan.
Intro at Heron Lake
There is a good chance that swan could have been introduced back into an area of southwest Minnesota where they hadn't existed for a century, at least. The North Heron Lake Game Producers Association (NHLGPA) began a re-introduction project associated with the Como Park Zoo that provided them.
The first release was off the road running parallel to Duck Lake just north of that town. Cars were parked along that roadway for nearly half a mile that mid-morning.
Then the release sight was changed to the Wolf Lake area just east of the current office building. The big birds were brought in big dog carriers and kids from the crowd were allowed to release them. Nice sight, it worked!
Wild turkeys
Nearly the same time, in years, another re-introduction program was taking place. Into the habitat, along the Des Moines River, wild-captured, Eastern strain, wild turkeys were being released.
Luckily I was invited for the big day. From the high bank of the old Des Moines River bed, just southwest of Rollie Roesner's old dairy barn, we turned the birds loose. Just like the kids and the swans, we took turns releasing a couple toms and a handful of hens.
They leaped into flight and soared down to the south. They would soon set up a new colony of turkeys that now spend time in the mature oak trees all along the river. The area of Jackson County's Belmont Park and Kilen Woods State Park now have turkeys carrying genes from that first release.
The last couple winters and two very wet summers have resulted in poor winter survival and summer nesting success. But the turkeys have made it back over a large section of our state.
A nice big thank you is due to the National Wild Turkey Foundation, the Minnesota DNR and the turkey hunters who gave so much financial support earned at their annual banquets.
Giant Canada geese
The largest of North America's geese is called the giant. Scientifically it is known as Branta canadensis maxima. Some just call them the maximas.
They mature at 10 to 12 pounds and are one of our main species of waterfowl hunters pursue in Minnesota.
Extinction of this species of geese was thought possible when a wintering population was found in the warm open water of Rochester. From there and probably another colony near Yellowstone and Alaska live birds and eggs were brought back to locations throughout the Midwest.
This coincided, in time frame only, with the year I came to Windom. I met Jim Thompson of Windom and several NHLGPA members. They were embarking on our own re-intro of the big goose. They worked hard, got many to nest in big old wash tubs, and the project was a success. They're all over now.
Bald eagles
This is the last of the big four of our area birds that have made such successful recovery from low numbers, even extinction.
The bald eagles returned on their own. In this case protective regulations such as the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Species Act all provided for care of the big eagles. The outlawing of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) is also cited as a big help.
It was my friend, Del Wehrspann of Montevideo, that pointed out the first bald eagle nest in our corner of the state. It was near Granite Falls along the Minnesota River. A nest along the east side of Highway 71, near Delft, in a big Cottonwood tree can be seen from the road. It's probably one of a dozen or so within 25 miles of Windom.
Our four biggest birds, all returned to southwest Minnesota in the last half century. Not too bad.

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