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Tamarac Wildlife Refuge: Celebrating 25 years of the re-establishment of the trumpeter swan

Photo by Dale Rehder

Wildlife watching

At Tamarac, wildlife is left undisturbed as they perform the mating rituals of spring. Portions of the refuge are closed to the public during this crucial time, but many viewing opportunities still exist. The most optimum times for viewing wildlife occur around sunrise and sunset. But sometimes even an afternoon visit can be rewarding to the quiet, watchful observer.

To increase your chances of seeing wildlife, explore the edges of lakes, marshes and meadows the 5-mile Blackbird Wildlife Drive. If you feel inclined to exercise, hike the 2-mile long Old Indian Hiking Trail and experience the beauty of the maple basswood forest.


Try your luck in one of our five lakes open to fishing. There are many varieties of fish to be caught including crappie, walleye, sunfish, northern pike and bass. A fishing map and regulations can be obtained at the refuge information kiosks or the visitor center.

Visitor Center

If you've got questions, our enthusiastic staff has answers. We are eager to help you make the most of your visit. Check out our interactive exhibits and learn about the diverse habitats, which support Tamarac's many species of wildlife.

Learn about the historical use of the refuge including that of the Ojibwe Indians and the European settlers.

Be sure to view our large screen presentation entitled: "Tamarac: Its Life and Legends." Before you leave, browse in the Tamarac Bookshop. Proceeds from sales support educational programs at the refuge.

The visitor center is located 9 miles north of Hwy 34. Visitor center hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and weekends 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Guided tours, movies and


Wildlife Excursions will be offered every Thursday, June through August, from 10 a.m. to noon. Explore the refuge with a knowledgeable guide. Search for wildlife and learn about the cultural and natural history of Tamarac. Wildlife films, special programs or activities will be offered most Sundays at 2 pm.

• Saturday, June 2, 10 a.m.-noon -- Celebrate National Trails Day!

Let's go exploring on the Old Indian Hiking Trail. Identify woodland wildflowers and discover their native uses. Meet at the trailhead for this 2-mile hike.

• Sunday, June 3, 2 p.m. -- Great Migrations: Race to Survive movie

Travel to Botswana where hundreds of zebras make a desperate 150 mile long slog so their bodies can take in much needed minerals. Take in the heartbreaking struggle of Pacific walrus that have become victims of earth's changing climate. Witness a herd of pronghorn antelope and follow its ancient migration through Wyoming.

• Friday, June 8, 8-10 p.m. -- Friday Night Frogging

Identify frogs by their calls while learning about their natural history and significance in the ecosystem. Meet at the visitor center. Bring a flashlight and boots or shoes you can get wet.

• Sunday, June 10, 2 p.m. -- PollenNation movie

Follow the journey of a commercial beekeeper from the honey harvest on the high plains to the warm winter feeding grounds of California. Learn why honeybees and numerous species of native bees are in serious decline and how it's affecting our dinner table and that of wildlife.

• Sunday, June 17, 2 p.m. -- Butterfly Kisses and Wetland Jewels

Join John Weber for an intriguing look into the world of butterflies and dragonflies. Enjoy beautiful photography along with a site visit to see these critters in the wild. Learn about their fascinating lifestyles and their significance in the balance of nature.

Celebrating 25 years of trumpeters

One of the highlights of visiting Tamarac is the beautiful sight of trumpeter swans. Sadly this wasn't always the case.

By the late 1800s, trumpeters had completely disappeared from Minnesota. Swans were hunted for their beautiful white feathers, their skins and meat. Habitat was also disappearing as settlers moved across North America.

By the 1930s only 69 remained in the lower 48 states, living in the remote Red Rock Lakes area in southwestern Montana.

It was during the 1960s that restoration efforts began in Minnesota. The Hennepin County Park Reserve District obtained 40 swans from Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Montana to establish a breeding flock.

For the first time in 80 years, swans were nesting in Minnesota.

In 1982, the Department of Natural Resources Nongame Wildlife Program joined the effort to restore trumpeters to the state. During the next three years, they acquired eggs from Red Rock Lakes and LaCreek (South Dakota) National Wildlife Refuges, the Minnesota Zoo and Chicago's Brookfield Zoo.

From 1986-1988, the DNR was also able to collect 50 eggs from Alaska each year and reared those young at the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area.

In the spring of 1987, 21 2-year-old swans were released at Tamarac. Subsequent releases occurred through 1994 within Becker, Itasca and St. Louis Counties. With a total release of 326 swans, Minnesota's population has grown to more than 5500 individuals.

Today, Tamarac's population includes approximately 40 breeding pairs producing up to 100 cygnets. In fact, Tamarac is considered one of the premiere trumpeter swan production areas in the lower 48. The refuge is proud to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of these magnificent birds.

As you observe these graceful images of beauty on the refuge, think about the effort, dedication and support that went into restoring a part of Minnesota's natural history.

Trumpeter trivia:

Trumpeter swans are the largest waterfowl species in North America. They can weigh 20-30 pounds and can measure up to 5 feet long and have a wingspan of up to 8 feet.

Adults are pure white with black bills and feet. Males (cobs) and females (pens) mate for life and begin nesting when they are 4 years old. Their mound shaped nests consist of marsh vegetation and can measure 6-12 feet across and 18 inches high.

Adult nesting swans can be very aggressive and will defend territories up to 100 acres against predators and other swans. Pens will lay a clutch of 5-7 eggs in late April. The young will hatch after 35 days of incubation.

These 'cygnets' are light gray in color and will eat aquatic insects and crustaceans for the first few weeks of life. By three months, they will feed on aquatic vegetation. When they reach 4 months of age, they will be ready to fly -- just in time before freezing temperatures set in.

Trumpeters will winter in the central United States in open water areas along the Mississippi River in Iowa, Arkansas and Missouri and west to Oklahoma. In the spring, the 1-year-old cygnets will return with their parents to nesting sites only to move out on their own.