In late October, the staff of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Summer Lake Wildlife Management Area found a severely wounded adult Trumpeter swan and transported it to Broken Top Veterinarian Clinic between Bend and Sisters.
The staff of Broken Top contacted Elise Wolf of Native Bird Care, a Sisters wildlife rehab center. From there, Wolf took the swan to Oregon Veterinary Referral Associates in Springfield. It took more than four hours for Dr. Curt Daly and his staff to remove the shotgun pellets lodged in the swan's body, and to repair two broken bones in the left wing.
That's when the laborious task of caring for the swan became a full-time job for Wolf, who's no stranger to the needs of waterfowl requiring TLC. Not too many years ago, a number of Western and Eared grebes crashed on roads in Central Oregon, probably lost in a severe storm. Wolf and other rehabbers had their hands full caring for the birds—and in the case of Wolf—a bathtub of grebes needing a lot of care.
In 2014, Wolf became the principal caregiver of a Trumpeter swan she named Grace, who was suffering from a fishing lure embedded in its mouth. At the time, Wolf had only limited facilities for caring for the largest waterbird in North America, but made the most of what she had.
Six days after caring for the swan she released it on the Deschutes River near Bend. That magnificent bird eventually made its way to Sunriver, where the staff of the Nature Center immediately established a nesting site for Grace and her new mate, who successfully raised two cygnets. When Wolf went to Sunriver to see the new family, she called to the swan, who quickly responded to her voice, and calling to her mate and offspring, came over to see the old friend who had gotten her through the fishing lure crisis.
Perhaps the plight of the present swan will also end like that, but for the moment, it's pretty tough going for both swan and Wolf. Just feeding the injured animal demands a diet that's not too easy to come by. Thankfully, Marty St. Louis, manager of the Summer Lake Wildlife Management Area, sent buckets of vegetation with the swan to keep the injured bird in native food until she becomes comfortable with eating commercial swan mix. Then there are the hours Wolf spends getting help from other rehabbers around the country, including a waterfowl rehab facility in Minnesota.
Twice a day Wolf has to enter the "waterfowl recovery room"—an addition to the Wolf home especially built for swans in 2014—to change bandages and administer medicines. The visits are not well received by the huge swan. If she's rattled enough the swan could not only hurt herself, but cause severe damage to Wolf. But all comes into focus with Wolf's love of what she does for wildlife.
How, why and who shot the swan is under investigation. The Trumpeter is a protected species, this one wearing a bright green collar that is impossible to miss. Biologically speaking, the Trumpeter swan is an "indicator species" of healthy wetlands and waterways. The presence of a Trumpeter indicates clean waters and high quality habitats capable of supporting myriad plant and animal species. Trumpeters are also symbols of hope, showing that science, partnerships and perseverance can bring a species back from the brink of extinction.
In 1933 fewer than 70 wild Trumpeters were known to exist and extinction seemed imminent, until aerial surveys discovered a Pacific population of several thousand Trumpeters in Alaska. With careful reintroductions by wildlife agencies and the Trumpeter Swan Society, the North American wild population grew to the current number of over 46,000 birds.
Attempts to establish a breeding population of Trumpeter swans in Oregon began in 1939 with the initiation of a program by the Oregon Trumpeter Swan Program (OTSP), which moved birds from Montana to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Summer Lake Wildlife Management Area. The first nesting occurred in 1958 and the Trumpeter swan flock slowly grew until its numbers peaked in the early 1980s.
With species recovery, quick action by private, state and federal agencies provides a rapid reaction to the recovery efforts. Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, BLM, Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, The Nature Conservancy's Sycan Preserve and even River's End Ranch all created conservation projects to favor the Trumpeter swan population. ODFW's Waterfowl Stamp Program and U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Partner's for Fish and Wildlife Program have helped immeasurably. Also, several smaller scale private wetland projects have been accomplished with combined funds from ODFW's Habitat and Access Program in the Summer Lake Wildlife Area vicinity.
Elise Wolf, meanwhile, is using her personal funds to keep doing what she's doing. At some point she wants to get Hope a pool so she can be more comfortable (which waterfowl need desperately). You can donate by going to nativebirdcare.org, where you can also see photos of Hope and Wolf's other feathered patients.