Old swan Solo's still got it: After 22 unfruitful years, trumpeter swan is a father once again

CHENEY -- The drought is over for a geriatric but persistent trumpeter swan which has sired the first cygnets since 1987 at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

The four grayish-white puffballs hatched near the headquarters south of Cheney apparently on Father's Day weekend.

The elegant male trumpeter, nicknamed Solo, is likely the refuge's elder seasonal wildlife resident and one of the oldest documented anywhere among his rare species.

After his original mate was killed on their nest by a predator in 1988, Solo continued to return year after year to defend his territory even without a mate.

The few times he's attracted a female to the refuge, the pairings weren't successful in nesting.

Mike Rule, refuge wildlife biologist, said it was possible that Solo had simply grown too old to procreate.

While trumpeters are known to live 20 to 30 years in the wild, banding records indicate that Solo is between 33 and 46 years old, Rule said.

"He had a mate with him this year, and we've been checking them regularly since we found her sitting on a nest at Cheever Lake about a month ago," said Nancy Curry, refuge manager.

"I had checked on Friday and saw her with no movement around the nest," Curry recalled on Monday, after "getting a feeling" that she should go check the nest again.

"She was on the nest, and as I watched (through a spotting scope) I saw some little white things by her tail; then a head popped up. I was jumping up and down by that time."

With Solo dutifully on guard just a few feet away, the pen led her brood of cygnets off the nest and into the water for Curry to see.

"They already had a little size to them, but cygnets can go into the water within a day after they hatch," Curry said.

"Male swans, (cobs) are quite attentive. They will sit on the eggs when the female needs to feed and they stick around to raise the cygnets."

Solo's life has had its share of drama.

He soared with the success of fathering up to a third of the 122 cygnets known to have hatched since trumpeters were introduced to Turnbull in the mid-1960s, Rule said.

Trumpeter swans pair for life, but if a mate is killed, they often will look for a new companion.

While Solo still had the vinegar to defend his territory and the swagger to attract a few mates after his first was killed, his breeding attempts were unfruitful for 22 years -- until this season.

"He's an interesting bird, and we still don't know exactly where he goes for winter, although judging how quickly he's here every March at ice out, it's probably not too far," Rule said.

Trumpeter swans, named for their distinct trumpet-like call, are the largest native waterfowl species in North America.

Young trumpeters cannot fly until they are 100 to 120 days old.

Family groups usually remain together throughout the first winter, which leaves Turnbull Refuge enthusiasts eager to see what the next chapter in Solo's drama delivers next spring.