OVANDO — Five yearling swans were released into a wetland near Ovando Wednesday as part of an ongoing effort to reintroduce the birds to the Blackfoot River Valley of western Montana.
“This is one of the only restoration projects dealing with migratory birds,” said Greg Neudecker, a private lands biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It’s been a slow process,” he said.
But the work is starting to pay off.
Wednesday’s release marks the seventh year of an effort by the USFWS; the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks; the Blackfoot Challenge and local landowners to restore the white, long-necked birds to the valley.
Biologists have confirmed three swan nests in the area, but Neudecker said there are likely four or five. Plans call for swans to be released every year until seven breeding pairs breed successfully for three years in a row. Neudecker said that should indicate a sustainable population.
The seven cygnets that hatched last year were the first documented swans to be born in the Blackfoot in more than a century.
About 140 swans have been released over the years, including the five that were held by area teachers Wednesday before they were freed as students from six area middle schools looked on.
“It’s an absolute honor” to hold one of the birds, said Sandra Manning of Missoula. “Look at them out there; I just held it and now they’re going out into the wild. They’re so calm, so strong. What an honor.”
The yearling birds came from the Wyoming Wetlands Society, which has been breeding trumpeter swans in captivity for 26 years.
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