The lowlands of northwest Washington are again dotted with thousands of photogenic migratory birds.
Snow geese, trumpeter swans and tundra swans have returned to Skagit, Snohomish, Island, Whatcom and other Western Washington counties.
“With significant rainfall heading into December, the swans have arrived and have spread out across Western Washington," said Kyle Spragens, state Department of Fish and Wildlife waterfowl section manager. "Swans migrate to our area based on conditions hundreds to thousands of miles away, as these birds spend their summers in Alaska, western Yukon and northern British Columbia.”
About 20,000 swans and 80,000 snow geese spend the winter months in the area in Western Washington each year. Most congregate in the Stillaguamish and Skagit valleys from mid-October through early May.
Fish and Wildlife has set up a hotline to report sick, injured or dead swans as part of its ongoing effort to assess the impact of lead poisoning on swans.
People can call 360-466-4345, ext. 266, to report swans that have died or need help. Callers should leave a short message, including their name and phone number, as well as a detailed location of the swan and its condition. The hotline is available through March.
Some trumpeter and tundra swans in Washington and in southwestern British Columbia die each winter from a variety of causes, including exhaustion and powerline strikes, but also from lead poisoning after ingesting lead shot or other lead objects in the areas where they feed.
Lead shot has been banned for waterfowl hunting in Washington since 1991. But swans, which are closed to harvest, can still pick up and ingest lead shot while foraging in shallow underwater areas and in fields and roosts where lead pellets are still present.
“We advise people who observe sick, injured or dead swans not to handle or collect the birds,” Spragens said.
Through the hotline, the Whatcom Humane Society was able to rehabilitate 11 swans last season, one of which was sighted again near Fairbanks, Alaska, 102 days after release, according to Fish and Wildlife.
“With your help, this team response allows us to get birds to facilities trained in assessment and potential rehabilitation of swans, North America’s largest waterfowl, and reduces secondary lead exposure to other wildlife scavengers,” Spragens said.
A popular place to view the birds is at the Fir Island Farms Reserve Unit of Fish and Wildlife's Skagit Wildlife Area.