Ice jams were broken this week on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River in eastern Idaho's Harriman State Park, opening up feeding grounds for hundreds of near-extinct trumpeter swans wintering there.
However, a coyote and bald eagle seen watching more than a dozen of the swans are a telling reminder of the danger facing the weakening waterfowl in the remaining winter months.Twenty-two swans have already died this month, unable to forage for nourishment in the subzero temperatures that had frozen the river and still threaten about 500 swans in the waters west of Yellowstone National Park.
The swans here and about 1,500 others wintering in the Yellowstone region represent all the trumpeter swans left in the lower 48 states and Canada. The swan is listed on Idaho's Sensitive Species List.
"This winter could be bad enough to warrant placing trumpeters back on the endangered list," said Ruth Gail, a wildlife biologist for the Idaho Fish and Game Department.
In efforts to supplement their diets, Gail throws grain donated by a local feed store on the swans' feeding area. She does not know if the swans will recognize the grain as feed.
"We might be able to save 80 percent of the flock, if the weather turns normal, but the birds are really stressed," she said.