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Don’t mistake swans for other legal hunting birds

After the illegal shooting of a protected trumpeter swan near Hudson earlier this month, the Wisconsin DNR reminds hunters to be sure of their targets before firing overhead. With the waterfowl season underway and goose season open through early January, it’s critical for hunters to know the difference between waterfowl species legal to hunt and other big white birds that are not legal to hunt in Wisconsin.

All wild swans are protected in Wisconsin. It is illegal to hunt native trumpeter swans, tundra swans and non-native mute swans in Wisconsin. Other large white birds, including American white pelicans and whooping cranes, are also illegal to hunt.

Many of these species are more abundant and widespread in Wisconsin, so hunters may encounter them more frequently. The once-endangered trumpeter swan now exceeds 6,000 in number, since their successful reintroduction by the DNR and partners starting in the late 1980s.

Tundra swans are slightly smaller and are best distinguished by their high-pitched quavering call, unlike the deep, trumpet-like call of the trumpeter swan. Non-native mute swans are similarly sized to both native swans, but can be distinguished by its orange bill – both native swans have black bills – and prominent black fleshy knob, extending from the base of the bill to the forehead.

Snow geese are 2 feet long, 5-6 pounds and have a wingspan of 4.5 feet. If hunters are having trouble judging the bird’s relative size from the ground, snow geese also have pink bills and black tips visible on the underside of their wings during flight.

Shooting a swan may cost a hunter up to $2,327 in penalties and a three-year revocation of all hunting, fishing and trapping privileges. Also protected, are American white pelicans and whooping cranes, two more large white birds with contrasting black wing tips.

Hunters mistaking a swan or other protected species for a legally huntable species, face penalties, as three men did after shooting at trumpeter swans on Lake Mallalieu in St. Croix County, in early November.

“Be sure of your target before you shoot,” said DNR conservation warden Paul Sickman. “The safest thing to do, is don’t shoot if you don’t know what kind of bird it is.”