Lodi Township residents mourn deaths of trumpeter swans; authorities investigate
Among the rarest and most majestic birds in North America, the white-feathered waterfowl were an excuse for area commuters to drive out of their way to catch a glimpse. Bird watchers often stopped with their cameras.
But after what's believed to be an early Saturday morning slaying, all that remains along the stretch of Scio Church Road is a trail of white feathers, a silent marsh and many unanswered questions.
"This was the most photographed corner in Washtenaw County," said Kathy Lundberg, owner of Scio Church Stables just down the road. "Everybody has seen them. They've been hanging at the corner for so long."
Nearby residents said they believe the mother and father were killed, along with one of their two offspring. The bodies of the mother and one of the offspring were along the side of the road early Saturday.
"It's just baffling, completely baffling that anybody would do such a thing. They've been such an inspiration and a beauty to us for years," said Lundberg, mourning the loss Saturday with her daughter, Annette.
An emotional Anita Monical said she deliberately drove by the intersection each morning to see the swans on her way to work in Saline. She and others pulled over in tears Saturday after learning what happened.
"This is a joy stealer. There's no reason for this. They just took a corner of the world away," Monical said. "What was done was so horrible. People are just devastated."
Several people were on the scene consoling one another as authorities began to investigate. Residents said the state Department of Natural Resources picked up the bodies of at least two, possibly three, dead swans and were looking for a fourth that survived.
DNR officials could not be reached Saturday, and officials from the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department did not return several calls for comment.
Witnesses e-mailed photographs of the slain swans to AnnArbor.com. At least one of the swans was shot in the head, and the photos also show a pile of corn placed along the side of the road.
"At first we thought they were hit by a car, but it appears that they were lured with food and shot," said Diana Stetson, who lives in the area. "I cannot tell you how many people stopped - people got out just sobbing."
Manchester resident Aimee Bingham, who works at The Arena in downtown Ann Arbor, said she was on her way home from work at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday and found the swans dead. She said she quickly called authorities.
"It was gruesome," she said. "I had to swerve to miss them. Feathers were flying still and everything, so it had probably just happened."
The Ludington Daily News reported Friday that a 19-year-old Michigan man was arraigned on a charge of killing an endangered species after allegedly shooting a trumpeter swan in Mason County. That man is facing a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and 90 days in jail. In addition, a restitution fee of $1,500 can be applied.
The Minnestoa-based Trumpeter Swan Society says the trumpeter swan is North America's largest waterfowl and one of its rarest native birds. The group calls the black-billed swan "an inspiring reminder that we can save some species that have been reduced to near extinction."
Resident Troy Ontko said a minimum $1,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to those responsible for killing the swans. He and other residents have established an e-mail address for tips at firstname.lastname@example.org. A Facebook page also can be found by searching for "swanfriends."
"I hope whoever did this will get caught, or someone will turn them in," said James Zakhary, who lives in the area.
"People were so upset," he said. "Everyone who goes by watches for them. You look for it every morning when you go to work and look for them when you get home."
Photos by Ryan Stanton, AnnArbor.com: The area in Lodi Township where the swans lived.