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You're the Swan for Me

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

Sarah and Cygmond share a bond (and a pond) in the Temperate Forest habitat. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, a beautiful trumpeter swan is getting a second chance at life, and at love. Meet Sarah and Cygmond. Sarah, who is estimated to be 6 or 7 years old, was rescued after flying into power lines. Cygmond is 8 years old and recently came to Seattle from Kansas City Zoo to be a companion for Sarah. Together, they’re making their debut in a pond in the Temperate Forest habitat.

Trumpeter swans are the largest native waterfowl in North America, weighing in at more than 25 pounds with wingspans between 6 and 8 feet in length: Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Sarah's rescue and recovery is a conservation success story—and it was a team effort. Wildlife rescuers came to her aid on Whidbey Island last summer. The Northwest Swan Conservation Association headed up her rescue along with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Puget Sound Energy’s Avian Protection Program. A veterinary exam found the swan had a broken wing, was dehydrated, underweight and tested for low levels of lead poisoning.

Though they could treat her and help her heal, wildlife experts at Whatcom Humane Society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center determined that the extent of Sarah’s injuries would diminish her chances of survival in the wild. That’s where Woodland Park Zoo comes in. We’re happy to be able to offer Sarah a safe home with Cygmond. Both birds arrived here in December, spent their first few months bonding in a quiet spot behind the scenes and are getting along rather swimmingly!

Swans are one of the most iconic birds, known all around the world for their grace and beauty. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo

Trumpeter swans are the largest native waterfowl in North America, weighing in at more than 25 pounds with wingspans that can reach 6 to 8 feet. In nature, trumpeter swans often form pair bonds with a mate at 3 to 4 years old. They usually stay together throughout the year and sometimes for life, moving together in migratory groups. Here in the northwest, a population of trumpeter swans may spend the winter months in ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes of Washington state and British Columbia.
Sarah and Cygmond spend much of their time together. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, trumpeter swans were nearly driven to extinction by hunting. The species is also highly sensitive to lead poisoning—a result of ingesting pieces of lead that end up in their habitat. Lead shot is not legal for waterfowl hunting in Washington state, but lead ammunition is still commonly used and lead poisoning is still a major threat to the survival of many waterfowl species. Even low levels of lead in a bird’s system can take a toll on health and longevity. It weakens them and hampers their ability to gain altitude, which makes it harder to avoid power line collisions. This is exactly what happened to Sarah.
It is possible that Sarah and Cygmond might have chicks (called cygnets) together in the future. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
Eventually we hope that Sarah and Cygmond will be able to produce offspring together. If that happens there is potential that their babies—called cygnets—could be released back into the wild, in North American habitat areas where ongoing species recovery programs are in place. Until then, we're just happy Sarah has recovered and that she and Cygmond are bonding. We hope you’ll visit soon and take in some swan watching at the Temperate Forest habitat where the lovebirds now share a pond.