Video Of A St. Croix River Swan With Lead Poisoning Is A Call To Action

Bird was rescued and treated for serious symptoms caused by eating fishing tackle.




3 minute read

Video by Art Juchno, via The Trumpeter Swan Society

It is impossible to say what is wrong with the young trumpeter swan in a video made Feb. 25 on the St. Croix River just from watching the bird. But something is obviously not right. Its head weaves and bobs on its long neck, the rest of its body seems immobile. It is separated from its parents and its flock. The bird, less than a year old, just looks miserable.

“This cygnet is quite sick. The fact that this young bird was approachable by humans, and was separated from the parents during its first winter, is very abnormal,” explains Laurie Degernes, professor of Avian Medicine at North Carolina State University.

The behavior is actually how swans respond to most major ailments, so an x-ray was needed to determine if it was lead poisoning or something else. But first, the bird needed medical attention. Volunteers with the Trumpeter Swan Society rescued the bird and transferred it to the care of the nonprofit Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota

Swan x-ray image showing lead pieces as white objects, and are mixed in with grit or sand that aid the bird in grinding up its diet in the gizzard.
Swan x-ray image showing lead pieces as white objects, and are mixed in with grit or sand that aid the bird in grinding up its diet in the gizzard. (Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota via The Trumpeter Swan Society.)

There, veterinarians confirmed the bird had big pieces of lead in its stomach.

“The X-ray showed a large tear-dropped shaped sinker and a smaller piece of metal (possibly a split shot?) in the area of the stomach called the gizzard,” Degernes reported.

This is a familiar story. I wrote about another sick swan, another rescue, another video, and another rehabilitation just over a year ago. Each winter, swans gather in open water along the St. Croix, and each winter, several die from eating lead – either shotgun pellets or fishing weights.

This time, swan advocates wanted to show the world what it looks like when a swan gets sick. Art Juchno of Hudson made the video shortly before the swan was rescued.

The other symptoms the bird shows include its inactivity, difficulty holding up its head, “sleepy” eyes partly or fully closed, failing to forage, and lack of vocalization.

“The smaller fishing sinker alone would be enough to kill this bird, but the problem might not end there,” Degernes says. “Bald eagles and other avian and mammalian scavengers could inadvertently ingest the lead from the carcass, and develop lead poisoning themselves.”

Degernes seemed optimistic the bird could be nursed back to health. The swan that was the subject of last February’s article was not so fortunate, and perished.

Speak up for swans

Wisconsin Conservation Congress logoThe topics of lead tackle and ammunition are on the agenda for Wisconsin’s annual statewide Conservation Congress spring meetingsThe meetings will take place in all 72 counties of the state on Monday, April 11, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. Each year, the events offer a chance for citizens to provide input on proposed changes to fish and wildlife regulations, elect Conservation Congress delegates, and introduce citizen resolutions.

The public input guides recommendations the Conservation Congress makes to the Natural Resources Board, based on voting results at the county meetings. The public is asked to vote on a number of questions.

Two of this year’s questions have direct connections to lead poisoning in wildlife:

  • #22 – Require non toxic shot on all DNR-managed lands;
  • #23 – Require non-toxic fishing tackle under 0.5 oz in weight.

There will also be a question about halting frac sand mining permits until a statewide study is completed this year. 

Here are the Conservation Congress county locations in the St. Croix River watershed:

  • Bayfield: Bayfield Drummond High School, Auditorium, 52440 Eastern Avenue, Drummond, WI 54832
  • Burnett: Burnett County Government Center, Room 165, 7410 County Highway K, Siren, WI 54872
  • Douglas: Superior High School, Cafeteria, 2600 Catlin Avenue, Superior, WI 54880
  • Polk: Unity High School, Auditorium, 1908 State Hwy 46, Balsam Lake, WI 54810
  • Saint Croix: Saint Croix Central High School, Commons, 1751 Broadway Street, Hammond, WI 54015
  • Sawyer: Winter High School, Auditorium, 6585 W Grove Street, Winter, WI 54896
  • Washburn: Spooner High School, Auditorium, 801 County Highway A, Spooner, WI 54801

More information and the link to a survey anybody can complete before the Congress is available on the Wisconsin DNR website.


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Video Of A St. Croix River Swan With Lead Poisoning Is A Call To Action