News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The magic of Pete and Eloise

Three years ago, on a cold and snowy, early spring morning Pete, a 3-year-old trumpeter swan arrived at Aspen Lakes after a cross-country trek from the breeder in Scotland Neck, North Carolina. From the moment Pete stepped out of his travel crate, he and Eloise zeroed in on one another and it was truly love at first sight. They cavorted and trumpeted and the warm feelings were clearly palpable to observers of the encounter. It was the start of a love story for the two swans and also for the residents of Aspen Lakes who became enamored with the beautiful birds.

At the time of Pete’s arrival, Eloise was the lone survivor of the four trumpeters the Cyrus family purchased when they developed the golf course. Three of the four died off over the years from various causes, but Eloise was a survivor, and the survivor. She desperately wanted to be a mother and dutifully constructed a nest each year and laid infertile eggs that she would attempt to incubate. The eggs would never hatch, be eaten by predators, and Eloise would try again the following year.

When Pete arrived at Aspen Lakes, Eloise’s dream finally came true. Residents spoke to biologists at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and The Trumpeter Swan Society, and the Cyrus family and all agreed that any cygnets resulting from this union would not be surgically pinioned at birth (thus making them permanently flightless). They would be relocated and released at Summer Lake as part of the Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program. Trumpeter swans were nearly extinct as a species as late as the 1950s, but with conservation efforts the species’ status has now improved from endangered to threatened.

Pete and Eloise set out to build a nest almost immediately and in a very short time Eloise laid three eggs. The residents were thrilled to see the process before their eyes and eagerly anticipated the arrival of cygnets. The biologists and waterfowl experts said that Pete was too young to breed at age 3 but everyone was hopeful that Eloise would be a mom. Sure enough, about a month after the eggs were laid, one beautiful, little, fuzzy cygnet hatched. Biologists were shocked and residents were thrilled when “Sydney” appeared. Pete and Eloise were fabulous parents and never let their little miracle out of sight.

Residents soon learned that having swans entailed more than just having swans floating around the lake. They require feeders and regular food supplies because the vast number of visiting geese depletes the lake’s supply of natural food. A bubbler in the lake is required so that a portion of the lake stays open so the swans can swim throughout the winter. The neighbors clamored to see what they could do to help and many contributed to the cost of the care and feeding of our swan family. Life on the lake was good and even a little magical with the beautiful swans and their obvious devotion to one another.

The following spring, Sydney was relocated to Summer Lake. Unfortunately, she was never sighted again, so we don’t know if she survived or not. If she didn’t survive, at least she had a chance, and, for whatever time she had, was a free swan. If she did survive, she hopefully migrated with the other Summer Lake residents.

Within days after Sydney was relocated to Summer Lake, Pete and Eloise got busy with a new nest and clutch of eggs. After the approximate 32- to 34-day incubation period, we had a new family and what a family it was! The couple produced eight beautiful fuzz balls, just missing the record for largest hatch for trumpeter swans ever recorded, which was nine. Pete and Eloise had a very busy summer guiding and protecting their family 24/7.

Unfortunately, two of the eight cygnets never made it to Summer Lake. After learning how to fly, one youngster took off and, when attempting to land, mistook a wet road for the lake and shattered its leg in the process. The injury was so bad that the cygnet had to be humanely euthanized. It is not uncommon for waterfowl, particularly young and inexperienced ones, to mistake wet roads as lakes, so it was considered to be an unfortunate but not unheard-of occurrence. A short while later another cygnet was predated and killed. The remaining six were relocated and released at Summer Lake. We believe they’re all still OK.

Last summer Pete and Eloise had six more cygnets, to the delight of the neighborhood once again.

The parents proved to be experts at rearing cygnets and became the most successful and prolific breeding pair in the state of Oregon.

All cygnets were successfully released to Summer Lake last fall.

We were informed that one yearling was found dead this spring.

The good news is that it was found in California in the Pacific Flyway, so it had been successful in knowing enough to migrate.

The bad news is that it flew into a power line.

Apparently “finding” power lines is a significant threat to inexperienced fliers and one of the reasons only 50 percent of all cygnets hatched make it to adulthood.

In January 2021, Pete turned up lame. He was observed for a couple days in hopes that it was only a temporary problem. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Pete was pulled from the lake and taken to the vet. After the initial X-rays and exam, the vet found no breaks but noticed a warm swollen joint. Pete was taken to a local rehab center to recover and have therapy on the joint. There was no sign of improvement after a couple days, so blood tests were performed and waterfowl specialist vets in California, Georgia, Delaware, and Ohio were consulted.

Even with antibiotics, pain medications, and anti-inflammatory medications, it was apparent that Pete was in extreme pain.

Unfortunately, lab results revealed that Pete had septic arthritis, an excruciating and usually fatal infection.

Aggressive treatments continued for a couple more days with no sign of improvement and Pete’s condition worsening, so the decision was made to humanely euthanize him and relieve him of his pain.

He was cremated so his ashes could be spread on the nest he and Eloise had used for three years.

The source of Pete’s infection will remain a mystery, but it’s likely that he cut a leg or flipper and bacteria was able to enter the wound.

The infection then entered his bloodstream and traveled to the leg joint becoming septic arthritis.

The magic for Eloise was over and she was clearly grieving.

Pete’s breeder suggested bringing a new male to the lake for Eloise.

She said that the sooner a potential mate is replaced, the more likely the surviving mate will be to accept it.

The breeder had an adult male trumpeter swan who had come in with a wing injury but had fully recovered and was in great shape.

She was kind enough to offer to donate him to the Aspen Lake homeowners as long as someone came to North Carolina to travel with him.

With the COVID epidemic in full swing, flight schedules were subject to change and, understandably, she didn’t want the swan to be stranded at some random airport. Once again, the homeowners rallied and donated the funds to ship the swan and his escort. Bob Landwehr graciously volunteered to fly east and accompany the swan to Sisters, so plans moved forward quickly.

To honor Bob Landwehr’s efforts to collect the swan, it was decided to name the new male Bob Swan.

Bob Swan arrived at Aspen Lakes about two weeks after Pete’s death.

A few of the caretakers who played an integral part in the care and feeding of the swans met at the lake for his release.

Everyone was eager and excited to see Bob’s release and hoped that magic would once again be created and that Eloise and Bob would fall instantly in love as Eloise and Pete had.

That wasn’t to be.

As soon as Bob approached Eloise, she attacked him.

There were no injuries other than a perhaps-wounded ego, and Bob retreated.

In the coming days, he and Eloise clearly became more friendly, but still no magic.

The neighborhood remained hopeful that the pair would bond and we would have more cygnets in 2021.

Last month, on a warm sunny day, Pete’s ashes were spread on the nest mound. There was no sign of any nesting activity at that point, just the barren mound. The following day, a golfer observed Eloise laying on the nest. She wasn’t working on the nest and was just lying there, sleeping in the sun. Two days later Eloise was found dead in the lake. There was no more magic in store for the swans or neighborhood.

When Eloise was removed from the lake, there were no signs of illness or injury; she was just gone. There are many possibilities as to the cause of her death, including old age, internal illness, infection, or even inadvertent poisoning from something she ate. We can only speculate as to the cause of her death, but one has to also wonder if she just gave up and died of a broken heart.

Eloise was cremated and her ashes were spread on the nest mound, so she has joined Pete in eternal rest. Their magical relationship and producing 15 cygnets in three years was something enjoyed by the neighborhood and will likely never occur again. Something that special can never be reproduced.

Pete and Eloise made an indelible stamp on our hearts; we should be grateful for the three years of joy, beauty, grace, and magic on the lake.


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