The killing of five trumpeter swans in central Missouri underlines the serious risks involved in failing to identify waterfowl before shooting.
Eight trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) apparently arrived at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area (CA) in southern Boone County the night of Dec. 29.
Some hunters failed to properly identify their targets and killed five of the swans, apparently mistaking them for snow geese.
Other hunters witnessed the shootings and alerted conservation agents, who confiscated the birds as evidence.
A February court date has been set for the resulting cases.
Trumpeter swans bear only a superficial resemblance to snow geese, the only even slightly similar bird that is legal to hunt in Missouri. Both are mostly white.
However, trumpeter swans' size, their long necks relative to their body size and the entirely white color of adult swans' wings makes them easy to distinguish from other native waterfowl.
Snow geese are much smaller and have black wing tips.
Trumpeter swans are the the largest birds native to North America. Adult males measure 57 to 64 inches long and weigh around 25 pounds.
Adult females range from 55 to 60 inches and weigh approximately 20 pounds. Their wingspans can approach 8 feet, and they fly with their extremely long necks outstretched.
The Missouri Department of Conservation urges waterfowl hunters to learn to identify legal ducks and geese and to take special care in identifying large white birds.
Do not shoot if there is any doubt about a large, white bird's identity.
For help identifying swans and other waterfowl, visit www.mdc.mo.gov/9528.
Trumpeter swans are known to be in Missouri now and the possibility of swan sightings will continue throughout much of the winter. The hunting season for snow and blue geese runs until Jan. 30, and following that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Light Goose Conservation Order extends hunting for snow and Ross's geese until April 30.
Hunters who shoot trumpeter swans risk thousands of dollars in fines and the possible loss of hunting privileges.
A 2005 case in which hunters killed three trumpeter swans at Robert E. Talbot CA in Lawrence County resulted in penalties of more than $5,000 and a six-month jail sentence. The jail sentence was suspended on two year's probation.
Trumpeter swans inhabit both North America and Eurasia.
Although not classified as endangered nationally, they are considered extirpated in Missouri. The species' Midwest population is estimated at 5,000.
One pair of trumpeter swans has nested successfully on private land in north-central Missouri in recent years, and increasing numbers of trumpeter swans from the upper Midwest and Canada migrate to Missouri each winter.