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Summer 2004 - Act•ionLine

by Donald S. Heintzelman | Summer 2004

Tundra Swan Protection in Pennsylvania

Reports of Tundra Swans received from interested birders are arriving more frequently now-as expected at this time of year. It’s early March when Tundra Swans are arriving by the hundreds on their ancestral pre-migratory staging area along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Those counts will increase to roughly 10,000 by mid-March as these marvelous and beautiful birds gather overnight on the safety of the river, and then at dawn fly to nearby farm fields to feed.

In recent years, thousands of Tundra Swans also stop at the Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on the Lancaster-Lebanon counties border near the tiny rural village of Kleinfeltersville. These parts of Pennsylvania are major staging areas for these swans — one of only a few places in North America where people can see and enjoy these birds for brief periods in the wild as they begin their annual northward migrations.

By the end of March, however, Tundra Swans depart Pennsylvania and are well on their way north to their remote Arctic nesting grounds in Alaska and Canada — an arduous journey of several thousand miles.

Regretfully, the safety of Tundra Swans in Pennsylvania may not be assured. Indeed, some birders and wildlife protection advocates experienced in dealing with the Pennsylvania Game Commission believe the Commission at some point in the future plans to announce a limited Tundra Swan hunting season in Pennsylvania — something that has not happened since 1918 — although all Tundra Swans in Pennsylvania currently remain protected. Nevertheless, the Game Commission includes in its Tundra Swan management plan a statement indicating that limited swan hunting is an acceptable part of the agency’s management of this species (which is legally classified as a “game species” with a closed hunting season since 1918). Hence it is possible for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to announce a hunting season for Tundra Swans with minimal legal and regulatory effort although permission also is necessary from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which also supports limited Tundra Swan hunting).

Determined to keep Tundra Swans fully protected as they have been for so many decades, however, several years ago Friends of Animals launched a multi-pronged Campaign for Tundra Swan Appreciation and Protection in Pennsylvania. The most recent aspects of this FoA effort include several additional steps to develop and enhance public interest in Tundra Swan watching and photography.

Here’s what has been done thus far:

  • Prepared and distributed carefully written sixth grade swan teaching materials to selected teachers and/or administrators in public and private schools in Lancaster and several adjacent counties — key Tundra Swan watching areas in Pennsylvania.
  • Prepared a short 35mm slide show featuring all species of swans known to occur in Pennsylvania as wild birds and made its rental availability known to all teachers receiving the swan teaching unit.
  • Contacted the owners or managers of bed-and-breakfasts in prime Tundra Swan viewing areas along the Susquehanna River, and in the vicinity of the Middle Creek Wildlife Management area, in an effort to lay the foundation for Tundra Swan ecotourism in those areas.
  • Several bed-and-breakfast owners indicated interest in catering to the needs of swan watchers and photographers.
  • Wrote and illustrated a Tundra Swan watching article recently published in Susquehanna Life magazine — a regional lifestyle magazine with a strong circulation in key Tundra Swan watching areas along the Susquehanna River.
  • Provided some detailed Tundra Swan watching information to the Pennsylvania Dutch Tourism Agency in Lancaster County, which is adding a birding section to its Web site.
  • Generally promoted Tundra Swan watching among members of the birding community in various parts of Pennsylvania.

In addition to the above efforts designed to increase public awareness and appreciation of Tundra Swans in Pennsylvania, and seeking to retain the current protection of these birds, Friends of Animals also previously published another major educational resource — A Field Guide to North American Swans — an inexpensive, color booklet providing basic field identification information for all species of wild swans known to occur in Pennsylvania along with directions to selected locations where Tundra Swans usually can be seen at appropriate times of the year. Copies can be purchased from Friends of Animals (see the FoA Web site or ActionLine for details).

Collectively, these are the efforts that Friends of Animals is using to assure continued Tundra Swan protection in Pennsylvania.

Donald S. Heintzelman

Act•ionLine Summer 2004

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