Couple nursing wayward swan back to health

Heather Latter

It was a miserably cold December morning when Gar Faragher awoke and noticed a hump of snow on the glare ice of the pond outside his home east of Fort Frances.
“Was that muskrat house always there?” his partner, Judy Tucker, recalled him asking.
It wasn’t until a few hours later that Faragher noticed a head rise up from what he had thought was a lump of snow.
In fact, it was a trumpeter swan laying there—cold and fatigued.
“I walked out to have a look because my heart just stopped,” Tucker remarked.
“I thought it had a broken wing or something, but it stood up and walked a few feet,” she added.
“Its wings looked fine, its legs looked fine, so I thought it’s just exhausted.
“But why was it there in December?” she wondered.
The couple cut a hole in the pond with a power saw to give the swan some water if it wanted, but Tucker noted it wasn’t interested.
Not knowing what to do next, Tucker phoned her daughter, who holds a Ph.D. in animal behaviour and coincidently had done some work with trumpeter swans.
“She said, ‘Mom, you just have to grab it,’” Tucker recalled. “So Gar and I went out, but the [swan] could easily [evade] us as tired as it was.”
Finally, later in the day, the pair found the swan in the bush just sitting in the snow.
“We thought, ‘Now what are we going to do?’” said Tucker, adding some friends stopped by and ran home to get a big dip net.
“We gently maneuvered [the swan] into the brush because the whole pond was glare ice. Then it couldn’t spread it’s wings to run,” she explained.
“We gently laid the net over it and then they told me to pick it up and put it in the shed I had prepared for it.”
She noted the swan went rigid with shock, so she was able to carry it.
“I really didn’t think it was going to live,” admitted Tucker, adding they gave the swan water and food in the shed.
“It just laid there and the next morning it was still just laying there.”
Besides phoning her daughter, Tucker also called a conservation officer, knowing you can’t confine a federally-protected bird.
“He said, ‘It’s going to die anyway, so if you’re taking care of it and you want to, that’s fine.’
“So we got his permission.”
The conservation officer told her to phone a wildlife rehabilitator in Kenora. Tucker also called the Trumpeter Swan Society in Plymouth, Mn., who, in turn, had her contact a man who lives near Toronto, who has done more for trumpeter swans in Canada than anyone.
“And he’s the one my daughter worked for,” she added, noting he raises young swans (cygnets) to get them past their vulnerable years and then reintroduce them to the wild.
“[The Trumpeter Swan Society] figured he’d want to know about this swan,” Tucker remarked.
She noted they all said to feed it whole corn.
“I learned so much about trumpeter swans in such a short time, I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Tucker said it wasn’t until the following day, later in the evening, that the swan started to show some signs of recovery.
“It mustered up a feeble hiss and it was pecking at the food,” she recalled.
In order to continue caring for the swan, Faragher made a riot shield with plywood so they could put it between themselves and the bird.
“Because it really wanted to get out of the shed and it was hissing right in our faces,” Tucker stressed.
The pair then made the swan a fenced-in yard outside the shed. Some friends had given them chain link fencing six feet tall and they covered the top with snow fence.
Another friend brought a big bale of good, dry hay.
“It’s sort of a community effort,” Tucker said. “It’s so nice that people were able to help.”
Tucker also gave the swan a kiddie swimming pool so it could preen itself, as well as a heated dog dish for water.
“And it’s been thriving,” she enthused, adding she named the adult swan “Cygnus” (meaning swan) because they don’t know whether it’s a male or female.
She believes the swam may have been unable to migrate earlier in the season because its flight feathers are worn right down to the quill.
“They have no barbs and nobody knows why,” she remarked.
“It’s not fizzled from hitting Hydro lines. It’s just like they never developed or something.”
Based on what she was told by the sources she called, the plan is to keep “Cygnus” until spring when the pond opens up and then let it go.
“It can feed itself and it can stay safe until it moults in July,” she explained.
Tucker said trumpeter swans have been visiting their pond for the last few years in the spring and the fall for just one day.
She has been studying up on the bird and learned these swans were nearly extinct in the early 1900s, and are just being reintroduced into their habitat.
In fact, Tucker was told there are about 30 swan nests between Kenora, Red Lake, and Fort Frances.
“So they are nesting in this area now, so you are starting to see them more,” she enthused.
“I’m really excited. I want to return this one to the gene pool.”
Tucker added she’s happy to be able to help this swan and hopes nothing happens to it before they can return it to the wild.
“With our love of wildlife, I think it came to the right place,” she reasoned.