Michigan Residents Say Goodnight to Gracie, Their Trumpeter Swan

August 2001, Gracie, George and their seven cygnets. Photo: Joyce Miller

We frequently hear about individual birds that hold a special place in the hearts of their human admirers. This story was particularly moving, one we felt worth sharing, about Gracie, a trumpeter swan in Michigan that raised more than 100 cygnets with her mate, George. She died this past April.

Gracie wasn’t just any bird. She hatched in 1988, part of a state trumpeter swan reintroduction program with the goal of creating three self-sustaining populations by the year 2000. At that time, trumpeter swan populations had dwindled almost to nothing.

Gracie came to the Midwest from Ontario—as an egg. When she hatched, she was “the beginning of a new population,” a pioneer, as The Bellevue Villager called her.

She picked her mate—a male the town eventually named George—and the pair took up residence on a private pond in Bellevue. Joyce L. Miller, who lived across the street, became their neighbor, watching as the mated-for-life couple hatched cygnets year after year, eventually raising 107 to fledging age. (One retired Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologist told The Villager that Gracie raised more than any other female trumpeter swan in the state.) George and Gracie, like the good parents that they were, “both protected [the cygnets,]” Miller says. “They chased everything out.”

Sadly, after 20 calm and fruitful years in Bellevue, Gracie got hit by a pickup truck earlier this year.

Bellevue residents, including Miller, mourned the loss of George’s better half. But they also turned the sorrow into something positive, bringing forth a city council resolution that made the mother swan “Bellevue’s Trumpeter Swan.” “Gracie was instrumental in helping reestablish a highly endangered species…and the residents of the Bellevue Community benefited from Gracie’s presence.”

Though they’ll miss Gracie, the villagers do hope George will mate again, keeping their swan pond full of cygnets.

June 2001, some of George and Gracie's cygnets. Photo: Joyce Miller

Trumpeter Swan

Scientific name: Cygnus buccinator

Look: These birds are the biggest waterfowl in the world, with full-grown birds weighing up to 35 pounds. They also have an eight-foot wingspan. They kind of look like mute swans, but with black bills.

Range and habitat: These white beauties live in Alaska, some western Canadian provinces, and in many areas across the Rockies. They like freshwater marshes, ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers for breeding.

Status: Right now, the global population hovers around 35,000. The species nearly went extinct in the 1940s, but thanks to efforts like those in Michigan in the ’80s, it’s rebounded a bit.

For more information: Visit Audubon’s trumpeter swan page or the species page from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

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