SUNRIVER, Ore. — Chuck, the sometimes aggressive trumpeter swan at the Sunriver Nature Center, appears to have finally found a pond partner.
Grace, a swan found along the Deschutes River on Christmas Day 2013 with a fishing lure stuck in her tongue, is the lucky lady swan sticking to Chuck’s side at Lake Aspen next to the Nature Center.
The relationship started rough when they first met in early June. Chuck’s initial reaction was to chase Grace off the lake. The Nature Center isolated Chuck for a couple of days, letting Grace have the lake to herself. Then Chuck was put back on the water and the pair of swans hit it off, said Nature Center Manager Jennifer Curtis.
“They have been inseparable since,’ he said.
Both flightless from being pinioned — where people have cut off the end of one wing — the swans spend their days at Lake Aspen swimming and sitting together. At times they mirror each other’s movements and have been spotted performing mating dances.
“They are really enjoying each other,” Curtis said.
Chuck is quick to rear up, raise his voice and spread his wings to protect Grace if he feels someone has come too close to her.
Chuck’s aggressive behavior didn’t always have such purpose.
Before Grace, he appeared frustrated with failed attempts to keep a mate, said Kirstin Rea, a naturalist at the Nature Center.
A resident at Lake Aspen for two years, Chuck twice had wild female swans stop by Sunriver and show interest in him, only to eventually fly away. Rea said the problem may have been that Chuck could not fly himself.
“One of my co-workers said it is like trying to date without a car,” she said.
Perhaps angry about his lack of luck at landing love, Chuck would lash out at people who came too close, honking, hissing and beating his wings.
The Nature Center responded by putting up a sign warning, “Caution: Swan is Aggressive.” Punctuating the point, video on the Nature Center’s Facebook page posted in November 2014 shows Chuck snapping and biting at the sign.
Having found a mate, it appears Chuck has also found some peace, said Jay Bowerman, principal researcher at the Nature Center.
“The moment he hooked up with Grace he has turned into an absolute perfect gentleman,” he said.
Bowerman has taken to calling the swans “Sir Charles” and “Lady Grace.”
Life was not always so easy for the swans — both were outcasts.
Before he was moved to Sunriver, Chuck was at Pronghorn Club northeast of Bend with his brother Larry. Larry took a mate and Chuck was the odd swan out. Grace used to live along the Deschutes River in Bend, near the First Street Rapids Park, but also didn’t fit in with other swans that had paired up.
While Chuck was part of a decades-old program supported by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to reintroduce trumpeter swans in Central Oregon, Grace’s background is more mysterious. She just showed up a few years ago near downtown Bend. Birds in the state-supported program were pinioned so they would stay close to where they were released and hopefully produce young. In the 19th century, hunting of swans, sought for meat and feathers, nearly wiped the bird from Oregon.
Grace’s injury came in late December 2013. A pair of birders spotted her on Christmas Day with a fishing lure stuck in her mouth. High Desert Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation in Bend teamed up with Grebe Acres Wild Bird Care in Sisters to save her.
The lure, which impaled her tongue, was surgically removed and then she went to Sisters to gain weight while healing from the wound, said Elise Wolf, owner of Grebe Acres, which specializes in water bird rehabilitation.
“She was a good patient,” she said.
After three weeks, Grace was returned to the river by the rapids. Wolf said she continued to visit Grace and give her food, trying to help with her ongoing recovery. She saw Grace did not get along with the other swans there and is glad she has now found better waters in Sunriver.
“I can’t be happier for Grace,” Wolf said. “I love that girl so much.”
Marilyn Miller, the birder who came across Grace when she was injured, shared Wolf’s enthusiasm after hearing Grace had found a new home and a mate.
“Oh cool, cool, because Grace was getting picked on by other swans,” said Miller, who has been involved with the East Cascades Audubon Society.
Swans typically mate for life, Rea said, and they can be picky. It looks as though Chuck and Grace have picked each other. On Thursday afternoon, Curtis tossed cracked corn into the water to entice the swans off an island in Lake Aspen. They stayed close together as they swam to the snack.
“I don’t think they are ever any more than 50 feet from each other,” Rea said. “It might be a little more than that.”
The swans took turns leading their movements around the lake, and if one fell too far behind it was quick to catch up.
Now that Chuck and Grace seem to be a couple, the question is whether they’ll have any cygnets, or baby swans, said Simon Wray, high desert conservation biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildfire.
“We missed the breeding season this year, but we have high hopes they’ll be ready to rock ‘n’ roll next spring,” he said.
For now, Nature Center workers and volunteers, as well as passers-by, will continue to watch the budding swan romance between Chuck and Grace.