Swan song

Over the weekend, there was a new visitor to Freedom Park:  a Mute Swan.  And that name, alone, makes the phrase “swan song” kinda funny, don’t you think?

Anyway, in the middle of the Canada Geese and the Mallards, there was one large Mute Swan.  It was drawing a lot of attention to itself, as it tended to move right up to the edge of the pond so people moved in very close to it.  I even saw children reaching out and trying to pet it (with their parents watching and taking pictures!!!).  I full admit that these birds are elegant, but like the Canada Geese, they will bite!

So, aside from the show of watching people watch the swan, I suddenly thought to myself…’hey, self, we don’t usually see these birds around here.’  Unlike the Tundra Swans, which can be seen on the coast where they spend their winters, Mute Swans are non-migratory.  Introduced into the United States from Europe around 1900 they have continued to increase in number.  That fact places these birds in the same category as European Starlings and House Sparrows- invasive species.  Now the issue with that moniker can be seen at the park.  People love looking at the Swans.  That curved neck and big size makes them elegant.  They move slowly and quietly, so they seem so peaceful.  No one wants to call that kind of bird, ‘invasive’.

In the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, however, these birds have been found in numbers that are high enough to begin altering the habitat, and that is a concern.

Avery, M. and E. Tillman.  2005.  Alien birds in North America- Challenges for wildlife managers. in D.L. Nolte and K.A. Fagerstone, eds.  Proceedings of the 11th Wildlife Damage Management Conferences 82-89

Population controls instituted by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources were put on hold several times due to pressure from the public.  Why?  Primarily because they’re swans.  There’s a lot of reason to be concerned about the potential impact that these birds are having on habitats.  There is, however, a lot of enjoyment that can come from admiring these birds, too (from a distance, mind you).  The question is where do those two roads meet?  That balance can be hard to find, but the first step is always to figure out what kind of impact these birds are actually having.  As these birds continue to move around (to NC??) we’ll have to see if this pattern continues and these swans become permanent fixtures or if they’re on their way towards population control.

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About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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