Rehabbed trumpeter swan released near Ferndale

FERNDALE, Wash. (AP) - A trumpeter swan shot in the breast and found roaming a Fred Meyer parking lot in November has been released at Lake Terrell Wildlife Area.

"It went very well," wildlife biologist Martha Jordan said of the swan's release. Lake Terrell is west of Ferndale.

Jordan heads the group Washington Swan Stewards, which is a branch of The Trumpeter Swan Society.

The 15-year-old swan is special because of her advanced age and because she was the first bird banded in the lead poisoning die-off study in Whatcom County in 2001, according to Jordan.

Jordan was referring to a multi-agency effort to determine where swans were finding the lead shot that was causing an epidemic of deaths in the birds in Whatcom and Skagit counties and southwestern British Columbia. (Ultimately, Judson Lake was determined to be a significant source of lead poisoning on the U.S.-Canadian border.)

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

The swans swallow lead shot, which is the same size as the stones they ingest to help them digest grains.

The trumpeter swan was banded with a red collar with the code M50 on Dec. 16, 2001, when she was an adult, meaning she was at least 4 years old.

When she was found Nov. 8 this year, the injured bird was in the pharmacy drive-through of the Fred Meyer at 12906 Bothell Everett Highway. Her mate had flown to the top of the building and then away.

How she got to the urban area - with its acre or so of wetlands behind the store but one surrounded by apartments and houses - and who shot her remain a mystery.

"We don't know. We really don't know," Jordan said.

It is illegal to shoot trumpeter swans, which are the largest waterfowl native to North America and have a wingspan of more than six feet.

The swan was taken to Sarvey Wildlife Care Center in Arlington for rehabilitation.

Blood tests showed no lead poisoning. In fact, it showed that she had the same background levels of lead in her system that she'd had when she was first banded - meaning she was essentially lead-free, Jordan noted. That means there's still quality habitat out there and that we can get them to survive, Jordan said.

Before releasing the swan at Lake Terrell, crews first rebanded her. Her old collar was sawed off and replaced with a yellow collar with the code M49. Her old and worn leg band also was replaced.

The new collar is lighter than the old one.

"That was the biggest thing for us was her comfort," Jordan said of the reason for replacing the collar and leg band.

Lake Terrell is an ideal place for the swan's release because it's large, there's a lot of food and other trumpeter swans are there this time of the year.

Plus, half of the lake is a wildlife reserve, so there's no hunting. It's not that the hunters would shoot the birds; more that it's so large that their hunting wouldn't disturb the swan and push the bird off the lake, according to Jordan.

"You give this bird the best chance of finding food, getting to other swans and staying safe," she said.

"Will she survive? We don't know. Nobody knows, but at least she's out doing what she was born to do. To watch her fly, she was so determined to be free," Jordan added. "When she flew, it was with great determination."