Sunriver swan Gracie meets new mate

BEND, Ore. (AP) — At last, Gracie will have a second chance at love.

The adored trumpeter swan at the Sunriver Nature Center has been alone since losing her mate, Chuck, on Thanksgiving Day in 2017, when he was illegally shot and killed by a young hunter on the Deschutes River northwest of Sunriver.

But on Monday, she was introduced to a new mate, who was transported from the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary in Southwest Michigan.

The male, who has not been named, was released at the nature center's Lake Aspen, and he immediately glided toward Gracie. The two swans shared greetings by flapping their wings and bobbing their heads, before swimming together around the lake. It was a positive sign for the nature center and for Oregon's trumpeter swan breeding program that is trying to reestablish the recovering population.

There is a chance the two birds could produce baby swans, or cygnets, this spring since trumpeter swan eggs usually hatch between May and late June after a 34-day incubation. Whether it happens this year or next, the nature center staff is just happy Gracie has a companion again.

"It's so nice to see two swans on the lake," said Amanda Accamando, Sunriver Nature Center manager.

Finding a new mate for Gracie had been a challenging task, Accamando said. Last fall, the nature center thought it found a new mate from a rehabilitation facility in Illinois, which had a male swan that was recovering from a gunshot wound. However, the swan had to be euthanized because its fractured bones were not healing property.

After reading an article in The Bulletin about the challenges of finding a mate for Gracie, staff at the Michigan bird sanctuary contacted the nature center. They all agreed the Michigan swan could be a good match for Gracie.

"The caretaker at the Michigan sanctuary saw that article and immediately reached out," Accamando said. "Two months later, here we are."

The male swan, whose exact age is unknown, was found in December with an injured left wing and was rehabilitated at the Michigan sanctuary. The swan has since recovered, but is unable to fly.

Trumpeter swans are the largest native waterfowl in North America, and the Michigan swan is no exception. He weighs 28 pounds and stands 3 feet tall.

The nature center spent about $2,500 to cover the expenses of having him transported from Michigan. He was flown in a large dog kennel to Sea-Tac International Airport near Seattle, and a staff member then drove to bring him to the nature center.

The effort was well worth it when the swan was introduced to Gracie, who has lived at the nature center since June 2015. She was found in 2013 near the First Street Rapids Park in Bend with a fishing lure through her tongue, and was returned to the river but struggled to fit in with other swans, who had found other mates.

Their introduction Monday went much smoother than when Gracie first met Chuck, a trumpeter swan that had lived at the nature center since 2013 after being relocated from the Pronghorn Resort near Bend.

Chuck, who had a reputation of being lovable but aggressive, acted territorial toward Gracie and the two had to be separated.

"When they introduced Chuck and Grace, Chuck had to be put in time out for a little while," Accamando said.

Eventually, Chuck and Gracie become inseparable and a critical part of the state's breeding program. The pair produced six offspring, two in 2016 and the four in 2017.

The offspring were sent to the Summer Lake Wildlife Area, a 19,000-acre wetland in central Lake County overseen by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The wildlife area offers an ideal breeding habitat for trumpeter swans, a species whose population is slowly recovering after being hunted to near-extinction in the early 1900s, when none remained in Oregon.

Only about 35 trumpeter swans live year-round in Oregon, and just five successful breeding pairs were counted last spring across the state.

The goal of the state breeding program is to establish at least 15 pairs of breeding wild swans. That number would give the population a chance to be self-sufficient, according to wildlife officials.

Officials are hoping Gracie and her new mate are able to breed and have their offspring join the wild swans in Summer Lake.

"We are hopeful that Grace's young will survive to breed in the wild and contribute toward a self-sustaining trumpeter swan flock in Oregon," said Gary Ivey, past president of the Trumpeter Swan Society and former biologist at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Ivey watched the two swans meet Monday and felt Gracie and the male were off to a good start. Gracie welcomed the new mate and showed him around the lake.

"He is following her and they are staying close together," Ivey said. "I think it's a match."