[Tweeters] Swan Hotline

Jennifer Bohannon bohanjsb at DFW.WA.GOV
Mon Nov 26 12:45:33 PST 2007

The Seattle Times printed a truncated version of the full WDFW News Release on the swan hotline, which I have posted below. The main purpose of the release was to get the word out about the hotline, but it was also an opportunity to provide the public with some background information on the swan lead poisoning issue. While it is entirely possible that swans are picking up some shot that is newly deposited, either by noncompliance or upland game/target shooting, we feel that the majority of lead shot in the areas where swans are feeding was deposited from years of waterfowl hunting prior to the ban. While lead shot can stay in the environment for decades, it does break down in the gizzard, making classification based on pellet size unreliable. We have recovered lead shot from swan gizzards in all sizes, including shot too small to classify.

I hope that those of you that are out there birding in this area will remember to call if you spot a swan that looks sick (e.g., alone in a field or roost during the day, unable to fly) or is dead. We also have a number of swans that die each year as a result of powerline collisions and we will pick those up as well. Puget Sound Energy is working on this problem and installing the "fireflies" that you see on many of the powerlines in Skagit and Whatcom counties.

The good news is that despite these losses, our wintering swan population continues to grow. Every January we conduct a mid-winter swan survey and last year we counted over 9,900 swans (about 80% trumpeters) in Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish counties. If you haven't already, I hope you get a chance to come up and view these beautiful birds.

Thank you for all of your interest and support as we continue to investigate this difficult issue.

Jennifer Bohannon, Wildlife Biologist, WDFW
La Conner, WA

Hotline to report dead or ill swans available

OLYMPIA * In a continuing effort to monitor trumpeter swans that have succumbed to lead poisoning, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has re-established a hotline to report dead or ill swans in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.

For the third straight year, citizens can call (360) 466-4345, ext. 266, to report dead or sick swans. Callers should be prepared to leave a message including their name and phone number, and the location and condition of the swans. The hotline is available 24 hours a day through the end of February.

Some trumpeter swans in Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties, and in southwestern British Columbia, each winter die from lead poisoning after ingesting lead shot in areas where they feed.

Lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting in Washington and British Columbia for more than a decade, but biologists believe swans are likely reaching shallow underwater areas in fields and roosts where spent lead shot is still present.

People who see sick or dead swans are advised not to handle or attempt to move the birds, said Jennifer Bohannon, WDFW wildlife biologist. WDFW and Puget Sound Energy employees, as well as volunteers from the Washington Waterfowl Association and the Trumpeter Swan Society, will pick up the birds, she said.

The collected swans also will be among the thousands of wild birds WDFW is testing for avian influenza.

Since 2001, WDFW and other agencies and organizations have been working to locate sources of toxic lead and remove it from the environment. For the second straight year, hazing crews are also working to scare swans away from Judson Lake, a suspected source of lead poisoning on the U.S.-Canadian border in Whatcom County.

Those efforts, together with severe winter weather, likely contributed to a significant reduction in swan mortalities last year, Bohannon said. About 100 birds died from lead poisoning last year, about half the previous five-year average, she said.

"Because flooding and heavy snow storms shifted swan habitat use and forced them out of the study area during part of last winter, we have decided to continue our hazing effort to better understand lead-related swan deaths at Judson Lake and other areas in the county," Bohannon said.

Besides WDFW, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the University of Washington, the Trumpeter Swan Society, the Washington Waterfowl Association and other non-governmental organizations are involved in the study.

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