For 35 winters, trumpeter swans have been fed along the bank of the Mississippi River in Monticello.
Thousands of the majestic birds have flocked to Monticello’s Swan Park, which in turn has made the Mississippi Drive park a winter destination for swan lovers across the region.
But that will change in 2020.
The artificial corn-feeding program initiated by Sheila Lawrence in the 1980s and continued by her husband Jim after her death in 2011, has come to an end.
Jim Lawrence will not be feeding partaking in the daily swan feedings in an effort to preserve the long-term health of the migratory birds.
Earlier this year, Jim Lawrence and city staff met with representatives of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department, the Minnesota DNR, and the Trumpeter Swan Society to discuss the future of caring for the swans as Lawrence prepared to move away from the daily feedings. The consensus was that ending the feeding program was in the best interest of the swans.
The swans will always be a part of Monticello’s story, and the legacy of Sheila and Jim Lawrence, said Rachel Leonard, communications director for the City of Monticello.
But it’s time to move onto the next chapter in regards to the swans.
Leonard said in a recent presentation to the Monticello City Council that the city has an opportunity to build on the success the Lawrences had in bringing the swans from an endangered status to a state today where as many as 30,000 swans populate Minnesota.
“We have an opportunity to build on that success and take the next step in protecting them,” Leonard told council members.
That includes helping the swans remain wild and naturally forage for their food, she said.
The daily winter feeding of the swans was having some potentially negative affects on the swans over the course of the past 35 years. Some of those effects were outlined by Leonard in her presentation to the City Council.
One was a decreased incentive for the birds to migrate. With an artificial food source, the swans have less incentive to migrate south for the winter.
It was also pointed out that a diet of strictly corn is not the best for the swans. Migrating allows the swans to forage for different kinds of vegetation, which is beneficial to the swans.
The swans, because they gather in groups in Monticello that can reach as many as 2,000, can be susceptible to disease, as well. They can spread viral and bacterial diseases, as well as parasites, when they are in such close contact.
Finally, the birds can demonstrate unnatural behaviors as they become dependent on humans for food. They become more tame than wild and less wary of humans.
Leonard says the residents of Monticello can expect to see swans remaining in the area.
The swans can be expected to be seen in open water and in farm fields around the Monticello area, she told members of the City Council.
“But you’ll probably not see thousands and thousands of birds as in the past,” she said.
Monticello Mayor Brian Stumpf called the changing in feeding procedures unfortunate as he noted the investment made by the Lawrences in time and feed in their commitment to the swans.
“It’s truly amazing what they did for the community,” Stumpf said of Sheila and Jim Lawrence.
But Stumpf said the decision to stop feeding the swans is the right thing to do for the health and well-being of the birds.
Councilmember Charlotte Gabler likened the situation with the swans to raising children.
“We feed them. We grow them. And now we have to let them go,” Gabler said.
And like children, if the swans need us, we will be here for them, Gabler said.
Reach Jeff Hage at email@example.com