By Ben Rodgers
SUAMICO – The featured animals this month are two of the more vocal birds who call the NEW Zoo & Adventure Park their home.
Abner and Cecilia, two trumpeter swans, are the Animals of the Month and they can be loud.
Cecilia tends to be more reserved and wary toward people, while Abner tends to protect his mate.
“Abner is a little bolder and braver because he is the protector,” said Megan Walsh, assistant zookeeper and head swan handler. “He is the one to sound the alarm when I first pull up, in anticipation of food, but also that I’ll be entering the exhibit.”
Abner and Cecilia are currently part of a threatened species, Walsh said.
“They were hunted as large waterfowl as they could provide a lot of meat as well as large feathers,” she said. “Currently trumpeter swans are threatened with habitat destruction and lead poisoning, in addition to other human run-ins.”
That’s why any baby swans, or cygnets, born at the zoo will be raised by zoo staff and eventually released into the wild in Iowa.
The Department of Natural Resources in Iowa has multiple release sites for the birds, supported by 17 members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), with the NEW Zoo being one.
Each year hundreds of students and adults visit those sites to learn about the birds and watch the release.
“I think my favorite part of working with the swans is it is one of the more visible conservation programs the zoo participates in through the release of the cygnets they provide us,” Walsh said.
Trumpeter swans can lay up to 11 or 12 eggs, but the most the NEW Zoo has seen was seven last year.
This year Abner and Cecilia have five eggs, with the possibility of more on the way.
Walsh went to southwest Iowa in 2017 to participate in the release program when the cygnets were ready.
“I saw these kids’ faces light up when they saw a trumpeter swan for the first time,” she said. “It’s just really cool to know we’re making a difference here in Green Bay.”
While there students and adults learn things they can do to help create habitat for the birds.
They also learn what they can do to help numbers hurt by humans, like not using lead shot when bird hunting or lead sinkers when fishing.
Trumpeter swans are native to the area. They are also the largest waterfowl in North America with wing spans reaching up to 10 feet.
“They symbolize a healthy wetland, and they are straight up a majestic bird,” Walsh said.
At the NEW Zoo the birds receive a steady diet of dry chow, and they forage for aquatic vegetation in their pond.
However, they can get defensive when geese come into their area to snack on their food.
“Abner and Cecilia are very much wild swans, which is how we want them because they are raising cygnets for the world,” Walsh said.
As an AZA accredited zoo, the easiest way for people to help is to go and visit the animals in Suamico and learn more about what zoos like the NEW Zoo do to support animals like Abner and Cecilia.