Swans of Island Park

By Ruth Shea

From atop her nest at Swan Lake, the Trumpeter Swan mother watches heavy traffic pass by. She cares tenderly for the tiny cygnets beneath her wings. She and her life-long mate have won, and now defend, Idaho’s best nesting territory. Over the past 40 years, Swan Lake has fledged more cygnets than any other territory in Idaho. This pair is one of the very few Trumpeters that are willing to nest so close to people. They tolerate people because their lake is unusually rich with food. As long as no one harasses them, they are willing to allow well-behaved admirers a rare view of their family life.

Mother and baby swan
Photo by Alan Sachanowski

At Harriman State Park, Silver Lake also provides great swan nesting habitat. Often two or three pairs with their broods are seen on the lake in June. They also are unusually tolerant of careful observers. Most nesting swans, however, are very wary of humans. At the first site of a visitor to their lake, they slip off their nest, leaving their eggs vulnerable to predators. Over the years, Idaho’s swans have abandoned many territories because of human disturbance.

Idaho has only about 20 nesting pairs of swans. About half nest on lakes in Island Park. Many non-nesting “teenage” Trumpeters also find crucial summer habitat here. A century ago, Trumpeter Swans were nearly extinct in the Lower 48 states. The swans that summer in Island Park are direct descendants of the last remnant flock. Early Island Park residents helped save those last swans and they have been very special to the community ever since. Today, Island Park remains crucial to the restoration of Idaho’s nesting population, as well as the recovery of flocks from western Canada that migrate to the Henry’s Fork to winter here.

Unfortunately, Swan Lake sometimes dries out by late summer. Often the swan family risks their lives as they attempt to walk the cygnets across Highway 20 to reach the river. Swan experts see exciting potential to work with the Idaho Department of Transportation to solve this problem and improve Swan Lake for many years to come.

Ruth is Director for Northern Rockies Trumpeter Swan Stewards and is a member of HFWA’s Community Council.