Ohio celebrates the remarkable return of trumpeter swansBiggest Week in American Birding continues

In 1996, Stan Searles flew back to Ohio from Alaska with an incubator warming trumpeter swan eggs sitting on the seat next to him. 

These eggs – and others in incubators carefully placed on seats next to other Ohio wildlife officials around the plane – would hatch into cygnets that would become the state’s first reintroduced trumpeter swans

The large, white birds – boasting an 8-foot wingspan and named for their call – had been driven out of Ohio through over-hunting before Ohio became a state in 1803. 

Searles, who worked for Cleveland Metroparks Zoo at the time, partnered with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, and The Wilds to collect eggs from trumpeter swans in Alaska and bring them back to Ohio. 

Kristina SmithDeWine calls the delisting of the swans an all-Ohio success story because multiple organizations across the state worked together to make it happen. The cygnets, which is the name for baby swans, hatched at the zoo and then were taken to The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio, to grow up. They were tagged and released in 1998, and they settled around lakes across the state – including at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area near Oak Harbor - and began nests and families. 

The partners continued this reintroduction work until 2003, when they met their goal of having 15 breeding pairs of trumpeter swans in Ohio. By 2012, the swans’ status improved from endangered in Ohio to threatened. 

Last month, the trumpeter swan was removed from the state’s list of threatened species. In 2023, there were 152 breeding pairs of trumpeters and nearly 900 swans total in 26 Ohio counties. Today, the swans can be seen across the Lake Erie region.
“For me, the point of all this is we can make a difference when we need to,” Searles says.

Searles; Evan Blumer, former director of The Wilds; and Laura Kearns, wildlife biologist who has overseen the breeding swan population for the last decade; joined the Ohio Division of Wildlife and Gov. Mike DeWine in celebrating the success of the trumpeter swan reintroduction during the Governor’s Bird Ohio Day on Thursday, May 2, at Magee Marsh. 

“It’s very rare where you get to be involved in something from the beginning; here you can say it’s a success,” Blumer says.

DeWine calls the delisting of the swans an all-Ohio success story because multiple organizations across the state worked together to make it happen. He also touted the H2Ohio program

The program began to clean up marshes and stop runoff in the Maumee River Basin to combat harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie and has expanded to restore wetlands, which naturally purify water before it is released into larger bodies of water, across Ohio. 

Kristina SmithA green heron searches for food at Magee Marsh on Governor's Ohio Bird Day.“This is really a great victory,” DeWine says of the swan recovery. “It means things are moving in a great direction. The all-Ohio story continues.”

The trumpeter swan is one of many things to celebrate in the coming weeks when it comes to birds, wildlife officials say. Governor’s Bird Ohio Day takes place a day before the Biggest Week in American Birding, a 10-day birding festival that Black Swamp Bird Observatory organizes – begins. 

This year, the festival began Friday, May 3, and continues through Sunday, May 12. Birding migration will continue after that, as well, but the festival is set to coincide with peak bird migration.

“The Biggest Week is certainly the centerpiece of spring birding,” says Kimberly Kaufman, Black Swamp Bird Observatory Executive Director and Biggest Week co-founder.

Colorful warblers and other migrating songbirds, shorebirds, and other species will be moving through the Lake Erie region as they head to their northern breeding grounds. The birds stop at the Lake Erie marshes to rest and eat before making the long journey across the lake. This results in a huge concentration of birds throughout the area. 

More than $40 million is spent in the local economy during bird migration, Kaufman says. That adds to a vibrant overall Northwest Ohio tourism industry that generates $8 billion per year and supports 71,000 jobs. 

“These birds unite not only countries but also continents,” says Scott Butterworth, Ohio Division of Wildlife District Two Manager, referring to some of these migrants traveling from South and Central America to the northern United States and Canada. “These birds also show that conservation does pay.”

This is the 13th year for the Biggest Week, which Black Swamp started. It has grown into the largest gathering of birders in the world and the largest bird festival in the United States, Kaufman says.

Black Swamp works with many partners, including tourism agencies Shores and Islands Ohio and Destination Toledo, as well as local attractions and other wildlife organizations to welcome birders to the area. There is no shortage of things for them to do and see, which only adds to the festival and brings people back again and again, she says. 

“We have truly changed the culture of Northwest Ohio,” she says. “Birders fall in love with Northwest Ohio.”