Status Update 2014

This report is provided courtesy of:

Mark Heckbert
Fish and Wildlife Policy Manager
Alberta Environment & Sustainable Resource Development

2015 Alberta Trumpeter Swan Continental Breeding Survey

Planning is underway in all jurisdictions across North American in order to deliver the 2015 breeding survey for Trumpeter swans. Completed every five years, such a large survey delivery is expensive and requires many cooperative partners. Due to the wide breeding distribution across several areas of the province and remote setting of most breeding sites, the survey is delivered entirely through aerial census. The majority of the breeding range occurs in the north western part of the province. Trumpeter swans in Alberta now form a substantial (and increasing) fraction of the Rocky Mountain population (48.5%), and an important fraction of the species’ global population (10.1%).  Productivity, as measured by brood size and the number of cygnets in the post-breeding population, is higher in Alberta than in any other jurisdiction within the range of the Rocky Mountain population. In Alberta, the survey is scheduled to occur between August 20-September 10, 2015.

The cooperative delivery of range-wide surveys in Alberta  started back in 1985. Between 1985 and 2005 a total count census was undertaken in the province. In preparation for the 2010 survey, wildlife managers in many jurisdictions including Alberta understood that the increasing breeding range and density of Trumpeter swans necessitated a change in survey design. So, in 2010, and for the first time, a modified random stratified block survey design was implemented in Alberta for most of the breeding range. Two smaller polygons of breeding habitat, the Beaver Hills east of Edmonton and the Pincher Creek-Waterton area contained densities of breeding Trumpeter Swans that could still be censused in one day through the total count method.  The survey results of Alberta Trumpeter Swans between 1985 and 2010 are shown in Table 1.

Alberta plans again to utilize a modified random stratified sampling design for the 2015 survey. We hope to be able to continually improve on the stratification design in order to deliver the most cost-effective and efficient survey yet! Interest in supporting the 2015 survey has been high, and in addition to funding and logistical contributions from the provincial and federal governments, groups like the Friends of Elk Island Society and other corporate partners see the value in contributing to the survey.

Table 1. Counts of trumpeter swans (white swans and cygnets) in Alberta, 1985-2010.

Survey Year Total Swans Observed % Change in Total Population from Previous Survey
1985 373 First Total Survey
1990 457 +22.5
1995 792 +73.5
2000 995 +25.5
2005 1,682 +69.0
2010 2,821 +67.5

AESRD unpubl.data, Parks Canada unpubl. data, Shandruk 1991, Beyersbergen 2007, Beyersbergen et al. 1993, Norton and Beyersbergen 2000, James and James 2001.