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Trumpeter swans winter in Idaho

Spring-fed Henry's Fork provides ideal habitat
Posted at 5:39 PM, Apr 15, 2020

ISLAND PARK, Idaho — With the days getting longer and warmer, many of us are anxious to leave our homes and head north. And the same is true for these elegant birds that spend their winters on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, trumpeter swans. During winter, the birds flock to this area which includes Harriman State Park.

"It's exciting to see them," said Harriman State Park office specialist Kyle Babbitt. "I mean you can be twenty feet from them and they're swimming along and doing their thing, so you get to see them up close instead of just at a distance."

So what is it about this river that attracts hundreds of swans each winter? The Henry's Fork literally boils up out of the ground at Big Springs, accessible only by skis, snowshoes or snowmobiles during winter. The consistent temperature of the spring-fed river creates conditions that are perfect for these largest of all flying birds native to North America.

"This is their winter range, and it's open water," said Babbitt. "So there's food sources for them in open water, yet there is a lot of snow which gives them their camouflage."

Pairs of swans, which mate for life, can often be seen from the highway running through Island Park, but if you want to see them up-close and personal you can ski or snowshoe one of many trails that will get you close enough to hear the song for which trumpeter swans are named.

"We have twenty miles of river that you can ski, snowshoe, fat bike or skate ski," said Babbitt. "And that gives you access to the trails that are along the river"

"I love it," said skier Jenny Dwald. "It's funny because we were here last week, and my husband thought his phone was ringing, and it was the trumpeter swans trumpeting."

The swans are beginning their annual migration back to Canada now, but you can be sure they'll find their way back to the Henry's Fork beginning next November.