Swan Park in Monticello, Minnesota
Every winter, thousands of trumpeter swans flock to this patch of the Mississippi River. The noise they make is so distinct, it sounds similar to seventh-graders in band practice.
About 2,000 trumpeter swans typically arrive in the area during November. They spend the cold winter months floating and swimming within this section of the Mississippi River, which remains mostly unfrozen because the water is heated from a nuclear generating plant upstream. The beautiful white birds cover the water in clusters of feathered bodies and stay until the lakes thaw and the snow melts from the fields in the spring.
This park hasn’t always been the swans’ go-to winter destination. A pair of trumpeter swans was released in the area in the 1980s as part of a plan to help preserve the species. After more and more were released, a local woman named Sheila Lawrence began feeding them from her backyard (along with the ducks and geese that lived nearby). As time went on and the population grew, the swans realized this particular spot was a great place to grab some easy grub.
Lawrence, who was lovingly nicknamed the “Swan Lady,” took to tossing the birds buckets of corn every year until she passed away in 2011. Her husband Jim Lawrence carries on the tradition in her honor. Now, each winter, more and more swans continue congregating in the park.