Villager Ventures: The Trumpeter Swans of Washago

By Hillary Handy

New year, new you! I say, new opportunities for fun and frolic. Winter in the North Simcoe region can be tricky to navigate. We have the most beautiful of idyllic winter landscapes. We also have the worst snowmageddon weather that makes us never want to leave the house.

But I found something that makes me want to leave the house.

Now I struggle with sharing this “hidden gem” with everyone because once the gems become unearthed, these places can become so popular and they lose their magic. But I also want to share insight into this particular opportunity to offer a chance to encourage discussions with your children around eco-stewardship and animal conservation.

In the winter, Washago tends to get special visitors around Centennial Park and the Washago Docks. They are big, white and feathery majestic creatures…it’s the Trumpeter Swans! The swans love the northern waters of Lake Couchiching as they are shallow, ice-free and offer plenty of vegetation to consume in the winter. They are migratory, but migrate to these parts when the white stuff falls! These beautiful birds were once on the brink of extinction as they were hunted for meat and feathers. It is now illegal to hunt Trumpeter Swans as a result. 

washago trumpeter swans

Taking it back to the 1980s, local biologist and research scientist with the Ministry of Natural Resources, Harry Lumsden, began the recovery program for the Trumpeter Swans in Ontario. He literally hatched swan eggs from Wisconsin and Alaska and released the birds across Ontario to grow the population today of around 3000! His work continues today, even after his passing in February 2022 just shy of the age of 99. 

Now being able to see these magnificent birds is a privilege. It’s very special. As such, the opportunity needs to be treated with respect. If you plan to take your little ones, please educate them that there are not many of these birds in Ontario. You don’t need to get too close and you don’t chase them away (why do kids love to chase animals away?) They should NOT be fed, especially bread. Inappropriate feeding is a threat Swans face and we don’t want to be a part of the problem, we need to be part of the solution. Many volunteers with the Trumpeter Swan Conservation Ontario spend countless hours banding birds and registering the tag numbers to assess migration patterns, mating, and nesting. This also allows birds to be tracked that are injured or unwell. They even have Family Trees created! How cool! This is a great opportunity to educate your children about respect for nature and our wildlife, especially those that are endangered. 

washago trumpeter swans 2

As the largest waterfowl native to North America, it is really something to see these birds up close and personal. If you are able to check out the Swans of Washago, as I call them, you are in for a treat. I find January to be the perfect time to see them in action. They tend to go once the ice does. Once you take a peek at the swans, you can swing by Centennial Park to play in the snow for a bit! Make a family outing out of it.

To learn more about this restorative project, check out the work of the Trumpeter Swan Conservation Ontario registered charity. If this speaks to your heart, and perhaps your children’s, you can contribute a financial gift to support this work.