A new category of animals on feed?

Trumpeter swans overwinter in Monticello, munching shelled corn.

By Jonathan Eisenthal

The sad news spread Saturday that the “Swan Lady’ of Monticello, Sheila Lawrence, had passed away after an eight-month battle with cancer. Her husband Jim vows to continue her legacy–providing a supply of winter food for a growing flock of Trumpeter Swans.

Sheila’s special project began 20 years ago when she spotted two of the elegant, huge water fowl at the banks of the Mississippi River that flows past the Lawrence property in Monticello. She put out corn to assure that the birds would survive. Soon she noticed that the number of swans gathering on the river bank was growing.

At first Lawrence would spend hours carrying shelled corn down to the river bank from a container kept on the couple’s driveway. Eventually, they rigged up an augur system to carry the grain from the container to the river bank.

What started with a few handfuls of feed has grown to a 2,500 to 3,000 bushel supply of shelled corn, at an estimated expense of $20,000 each year.

This phenomenon did not go unnoticed for long. Soon, word got out among birders and other tourists who made their way to Monticello to see this wonderful site of hundreds of swans congregating. City officials and the local Chamber of Commerce got involved, printing maps to the site that include information about eateries and hotels in the area. They even purchased an empty lot next to the Lawrence property to facilitate tourists stopping for a view of the birds.

The DNR credits Lawrence with bringing Minnesota’s population of this threatened species back from the brink. A migratory fowl species, Trumpeter Swans winter as far north as Minnesota, but then in spring they head up to Canada for nesting and raising young.

“We’re happy to hear that our product can contribute to what turns out to be a vital conservation project,” said Greg Schwarz, a corn farmer in Le Sueur and president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “As farmers, we see ourselves as stewards of the land. Not only do we want to produce food and energy for today, but we strive to maintain the soil, the landscape and our natural resources for the use and enjoyment of future generations. We think all Minnesotans can be grateful to the Lawrence family for this amazing accomplishment.”

For more info on Sheila Lawrence and the Trumpeters Swans of Monticello see the article in the Wednesday, April 6 edition of the Star Tribune newspaper at:



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