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Mark Daul: Mute swans are considered invasive waterfowl

by jmaloni
Mon, Jun 23rd 2014 11:20 am
DEC eyes eliminating mute swans statewide.
DEC eyes eliminating mute swans statewide.

by Mark Daul

Outdoors in Niagara

The New York State Department of Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing to kill the state's entire population of free-ranging mute swans.

Careful now, the sentence reads, "proposing."

This proposed draft was issued in December by the DEC. Maybe it's just trying to reach an agreement with pro-swan and anti-swan advocates? I'm not sure. One of the reasons for this proposal was for swans "exhibiting aggressive behavior towards people." Remember, your family pets do the same thing if aggravated or disturbed, like any other animal in the wild kingdom.

The mute swan was first introduced to New York in the late 1800s by immigrants from Europe and Asia who brought the birds for ornamental purposes. Now it is claimed that by not being native to this country the mute swan has become a nuisance.

In the early 1900s some of the swans escaped captivity and established populations in the lower Hudson Valley and on Long Island where populations are now quite high. It is estimated by the DEC, that since the early 1900s the statewide swan population has grown to approximately 2,200 birds.

Gosh, I could count that many free-ranging geese just in the towns of Lewiston and Porter put together.

Not to refute anything our NYS DEC does, because I am a strong believer and supporter of what they do, but there are some decisions I disagree with and this is one of them. The DEC and anti-swan advocates claim, "Mute swans can cause a variety of problems, including aggressive behavior towards people, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, displacement of native wildlife species, degradation of water quality, and potential hazards to aviation." As far as hazards to navigation go, so do Canada geese, cormorants, seagulls and other migrating birds. To be kind in the proposal, the DEC states, "While allowing responsible ownership of these birds in captivity, this will serve the public interest in protecting ecosystem integrity while allowing licensed individuals to possess captive mute swan."

But then we are told that's how they got into the wild when the Eurasians brought them here, by escaping from captivity.

Ironically, numerous wildlife conservation organizations, including the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, National Audubon Society, and the American Bird Conservancy have expressed strong support for reducing free-ranging mute swan populations in accordance with the Atlantic Flyway mute swan management plan.

I am puzzled by these actions. Wouldn't you think somewhere along the line that wildlife agencies/DEC couldn't move these swans out of populated areas like they do bear, deer, and other wild animals? There are other species of swan, one of which is the trumpeter swan; another is the whooper and whistler, none of which are on the invasive species list. They are North American natives, is that why? I wonder what animal rights groups think, after all, kill a mouse and someone there will complain even if your house is crawling with them.

One question that is debated is whether the mute swan migrates on a north-south pattern. According to one study by accredited researcher Ryan P. O'Donnell, who has a Ph.D., in ecology, a bachelor's and master's in zoology, "Some references say that North American mute swans don't migrate; others, more accurately, say that there is post-breeding movement as a result of weather or local seasonal movements, but few if any seem to indicate that there is a pattern of north-south movement in North America's mute swans that qualifies as a migration."

I'm puzzled again, without proper research, how do the wildlife agencies know they are a potential hazard to aviation?

These agencies note the "degradation of our waters." How that is, they don't tell us, but I do know of the degradation of our parklands and golf courses caused by geese with their droppings and the potential diseases they leave.

The mute swan is seen around our neck of the woods at Olcott harbor, Wilson harbor and Four Mile Creek - not many of them, but they are there. I can remember years ago there were many swans that lived at Hyde Park Lake in Niagara Falls. I don't know if they still do or not, but I learned they were placed there many years ago for ornamentation. If any Falls natives are reading this, they'll remember seeing them around Duck Island (a favored fishing hole), and the area just off the rose garden at the lake. Remember the peacocks there, too?

I, like many, consider mute swans a regal bird: The snow-white plumage with their bright orange bill bordered in black is a beautiful sight to lay eyes on. Especially now when the little ones are following mom and pop out on the water for an evening voyage showing the little ones the neighborhood. Many of us consider them harmless, and get a grunt, snort, or hiss only when they are disturbed; otherwise, they are "mute."

I have a couple of them who fly and swim by my house on the lake. I watch them slowly cruising by, and once in a while they'll stop if I'm near the water looking for a handout of bread from me. They come from Four Mile Creek and head west in my direction when I see them. I'm sure they are seen all along the tributaries of Lake Ontario, but the biggest complainants of them come from those around Long Island and in the lower Hudson Valley; they have the highest numbers of swan.

Going back to the statement that mutes "exhibit aggressive behavior towards people." Don't dare disturb a Canadian goose on its nest, it will come after you like a dog would, honking and barking at you until you retreat. DEC talks about mutes being aggressive. Well, a friend of mine and I were at the Niagara River Anglers Wilderness Preserve on Balmer Road one sunny day and we saw a fox creep up to a goose nest probably to grab some eggs. When the goose noticed him, all hell broke loose. The poor fox was befuddled and didn't know what to do with that giant five-foot wingspan spread out flapping at him, plus stretching its hind legs like it was on its tiptoes, and really honking.

The bewildered fox backed off, walking backward until it felt it was safe to turn and get the heck out of there. Those geese, including the swans, will do the same to a human, and if you don't move fast enough, you will get nipped. Guaranteed. In this particular instance, daddy goose was in the water and couldn't get there fast enough to help out.

Do your own thinking about these "invaders or immigrants." I can't help but think the studies produce some markedly inconclusive scientific results, and are speculative.

Scuttlebutt

•Free-ranging swan populations in the east currently exist in Ontario, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and all are potential sources of mute swans immigrating into New York.

•Baby swans are referred to as cygnets. They can fly at about 4-5 months of age and are considered "juveniles" at that time. I have photos of cygnets at Wilson harbor. They have grayish feathers and black beaks.

•The DEC says "on average, only three cygnets per breeding pair survive to juvenile age. Causes of death include starvation, collisions with structures and disease, including lead poisoning." Are they referring to lead poisoning coming from a shotgun? Ha!

•Mute swans are still protected by the New York state environmental conservation law. Therefore, swans, as well as their nests and eggs, may not be handled or harmed without authorization from DEC.

•The trumpeter swan has a black beak and straight neck.

•Just so you know, like the mute swan, the honeybee is not native to North America either. They were introduced back the time Christopher Columbus. I'll tell you about them in a later story.

•So Smart sez: The first bird domesticated by humans was the goose.

Now is a good time for you to take your father out fishing. Happy Father's Day! Take a kid fishing no matter what you do this summer. You owe it to yourself and to them. Don't leave the elderly behind either.

Please address comments and/or suggestions to [email protected] or Terry Duffy at [email protected].

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