On Monday afternoon at the Sunriver Nature Center, Lyle and Donna Brumley from Tulsa, Oklahoma, took time out of their vacation to watch nature unfold.
“Look at those babies, next to mommy!” Donna exclaimed.
Lyle looked through his binoculars at the white birds on the water.
“A friend told us about them. We had to see them. It was on our priority list for Monday,” he said.
They were talking about the two cygnets, born to Trumpeter swans Gus and Val. The fluffy birds trailing behind their parents were hatched on Friday.
“It’s been three years since we had baby swans on the lake, so we’re really excited,” said Kelli Neumann, the Programs Director at Sunriver Nature Center.
The eggs were laid on June 11 and Val sat on them for nearly the typical 30-day incubation period for swans.
It’s the first nest for Val at the nature center after her arrival in February. She was brought in to replace Gus’s previous mate, Grace, who staff believes was killed in a coyote attack in 2020.
“We got a new female as soon as possible, but that year she did not decide to breed, so we were all really anxious to see this be successful this year,” Neumann said.
There are only about 32 Trumpeter swans in Oregon and most of them have been born at the Sunriver Nature Center through a partnership with the Trumpeter Swan Society that’s lasted for more than 15 years.
The very first swan was brought to the nature center in 2006 by Jay Bowerman, one of their prominent researchers. The male swan, Chuck, was soon joined by Grace.
“They didn’t get along at first, we had to remove Chuck for a little while. Chuck was very aggressive, which is very typical for male swans,” Neumann said. “He actually went viral because he would attack signs that said ‘Careful: Aggressive Swans’ that we put around the lake. Eventually he and Grace got along very well and they produced lots of offspring that were then released into Summer Lake.”
Chuck was illegally poached around Thanksgiving seven years ago, and so Grace was left by herself until Gus was brought in to join her.
They then continued to have cygnets until Grace’s death in 2020.
“Trumpeter swans used to be really common in Central Oregon,” Neumann said. “I remember growing up here as a kid, we would have swan pageants down in Drake Park and there were always a lot there. But they haven’t been around for awhile and that’s due to declining habitat, declining wetlands. So having a healthy population here, having a population that can successfully reproduce and wants to migrate to Oregon is really important to show the health of our wetlands and the health of the ecosystem over all.”
She said during the summer, the habitat at the Aspen Lake Wildlife Sanctuary on-site is ideal for swans.
“There is a lot of green algae on the top of the lake, it’s called Duckweed and it’s a really good food source for the birds,” she said. “There’s lots of great cover for them, cattails and reeds. Marshland habitat is really important for waterfowl, especially first couple of days and weeks. The young are really vulnerable, so as long as there’s a lot of places to hide, a lot of good food to eat, that makes it a really ideal place for them to raise their young.”
So far, the new family seems to be thriving, with babies sticking next to mom and dad as they explore their new world.
The staff at Sunriver Nature Center does not interfere with the swan upbringing.
“We’re very hands off at this point, we don’t want the swans to be habituated,” Neumann added. “Being one of the largest flighted waterfowl, they can be very intimidating birds, so we don’t want them approaching people when they get older.”
She said the public response to the birth has been very positive.
“Sunriver is very dedicated to their swans, so it’s a question we got almost daily, several times a day, Sunriver residents coming back and being like ‘hey just checking in on the swans!’,” Neumann chuckled. “So we were really glad to give everybody the happy news.”
The cygnets will reach full maturity in around two months, when they’ll be taken to Summer Lake to join the larger flock.
The hope is that they’ll have babies of their own and continue to add to the Trumpeter swan population in Oregon.
For people like Lyle and Donna, it’s an exciting addition to a relaxing vacation.
“We weren’t sure we’d get to see them, and here they are,” Donna said. “Get to see the babies and mommy and daddy, it’s great.”