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The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is cooperating with Cornell University and the Atlantic Flyway states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina in a study to better assess the migration patterns and winter ecology of tundra swans.  Specifically, scientists are trying to determine where tundra swans breed and what routes they fly to get there; where these swans go in the winter; what kinds of habitats tundra swans use in Virginia; and what their survival rates are in Virginia and the Atlantic Flyway.

To conduct the study, swans were captured and fitted with identifying markers so that their movements can be tracked.  In Virginia, swans were trapped and banded in January-March 2001.  In addition to leg bands, neck-collars, and conventional radio transmitters, 2 female swans were equipped with satellite transmitters.  The satellite transmitters help provide information on long-distance movements when the swans leave Virginia.  This includes migration routes and the location of staging, or stopover areas, and breeding locations.

Efforts to monitor spring migration are now underway.   We have plotted the location of our satellite-equipped birds and you can follow their migration paths and track them to their nesting locations.  Satellite radios should remain active for 18 months or more and could provide information on the annual life cycles of these birds into the winter of 2003.

Where the swans are now:

Other states are doing the same thing, so we will have a more complete picture of where all the marked swans are going and what differences might exist between different wintering areas.  In addition, states in tundra swan migration and breeding areas, such as the Great Lakes Region and Alaska, are assisting in the project by looking and listening for marked swans.  Several swans that we marked in Virginia this winter were located by cooperators from the Canadian Wildlife Service on the north side of Lake Erie during March and April.

Photo by Dwight Dyke.

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