Libby Reuter and Joshua Rowan
Audubon Center at Riverlands,
301 Riverlands Way, West Alton, Illinois
N38.869872 W090.282452

The Lighthouse Cairn is composed of green and clear glass. The clear vase on the top is in the shape of a man’s head. In his three-cornered hat is one of the many feathers found on the melting ice of Ellis Bay on the Mississippi River. Is this a small plume from a Trumpeter Swan, the largest North American Waterfowl, with a wingspan of 8 feet? Or is it from one of the other 324 bird species that migrate through or make their homes in the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary?

Migrating birds like the Trumpeter Swans don’t need Cairns or lighthouses to mark their annual journey from their summer homes in northern Wisconsin to their winter homes in the waters, prairie, and wetlands at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The rivers of the Mississippi River Flyway provide an unobstructed route, water, food, and safe resting places from Canada to South America for 40 percent of North American waterfowl, including the “big birds” Trumpeter Swans and Bald Eagles.

The bird population in Riverlands is growing. In 1991, before the US Army Corps of Engineers dedicated the Environmental Demonstration Area, only five Trumpeter Swans were seen. Since the restoration of 1,200 acres of prairie and wetlands, more birds of all species have been hanging out here. The area has been especially welcoming to the Trumpeters. On January 24, 2014, bird watchers counted 960 of these native birds with the graceful neck and black beak.

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