Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mute Swans, an Invasive Species

I walked the edge of Farm Pond in Framingham, MA at lunchtime today.  There are at least 44 mute swans living at this pond right now.  I'm not sure if it will be safe to walk around here during nesting season!

This mute swan was meticulously preening.  I'm envious of his flexible neck!  (My chiropractor would definitely understand that comment!)  

 not done yet!

Got to get that last ....little.... spot!

Mute swans were imported to the US from Europe in the late 1800s and sold as exotics to zoos, public parks and private estates.  Those are the mute swans I remember from my childhood - rarely seen and then usually at special locations where they were being "kept".  Many of these imported birds had their flight feathers cut to prevent flight.  But eventually some owners failed to keep up with this practice (I'm sure cutting flight feathers requires a certain skill set), and some birds escaped into the wild and began a feral population.  This marked the beginning of a growing problem.

Mute swans are some of the largest waterfowl, weighing between 25-35 pounds and a wing span of nearly 7 feet.  They eat much of the submerged aquatic vegetation available in shallow waters, and considering their size, it takes a lot of vegetation to satisfy them.

Other native waterfowl species populations (black duck, canvasback ducks and redheaded ducks) have dropped in numbers as the availability of submerged aquatic vegetation has decreased.

I agree mute swans are beautiful.  I agree they are graceful.  However, make no mistake about their personality.  They are not gentle or kind.  They are highly territorial, especially during nesting season.  They have been known to attack humans, dogs, other ducks and geese, sometimes killing ducks and their babies.  They are also known to hog use of an entire pond for themselves, chasing off any other waterfowl that may attempt to use it, creating even less habitat choices for our native species than is necessary.

I'm not as big a fan of mute swans as I was before I learned all of this.  I favor our native species and prefer the thought of them eating the vegetation over these imported exotics!  Part of the problem with state and federal government population control programs is that there is often public outcry.  People have an emotional response to the beauty of mute swans and don't want them to be killed.   Education and awareness can help the cause.  Please support your local programs to control mute swan populations.


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