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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Michigan’s Growing Mute Swan Problem


By Bill Taylor
                                            Jim Occi, BugPics, Bugwood.org

Mute swans are invasive European birds that were introduced into northern lower Michigan by private individuals in the early 1900s. They eventually spread across the State, and the DNR estimates that Michigan’s mute swan population increased three-fold during the past decade. Mute swans showed up on the southern Michigan lake that I lived on during this period, and we have the same problems and deeply divided reactions as numerous other Michigan communities.

Adult mute swans can be distinguished from Michigan’s native trumpeter and tundra swans by their bright orange bills (the native species have black bills). They also have wing spans up to eight feet and a regal appearance. However, the males are extremely aggressive and use their size to drive native waterfowl from the best nesting and feeding areas. They also occasionally kill these birds and regularly attack people in canoes, kayaks, and other small watercraft.

The people on my lake who do not want any mute swans harmed typically cite their beauty and good parenting habits. Conversely, the people who want to reduce or eliminate them talk about incidents where they killed ducklings or goslings or attacked people. Mute swans frequently appear calm and friendly, and one of the biggest influences on attitudes is whether a person has also observed their unpleasant side.

The DNR is concerned about the way that mute swans are displacing native waterfowl and hampering efforts to restore native species like trumpeter swans, loons, and black terns. As a result, it has established a goal of reducing Michigan’s estimated 15,500 mute swans to about 2,000 birds by the year 2030.

Mute swans clearly are a harmful invasive species, and conservation organizations like Michigan Audubon and Ducks Unlimited have publicly supported this reduction plan. However, many people still love them and complain loudly whenever any are eliminated.

I prepared this blog to give people who have some experience with mute swans an opportunity to share anecdotes and opinions on either side of the issue. Is the DNR’s reduction goal too tough, too lenient, or just about right? What do you think?


1 comment:

  1. I have a mute swan that comes in the winter she comes up my deck and knocks on the sliding door to be fed. When the pond freezes I will put a bowl of water out so she can put the bread in it. My summer swan is male , he won't come up to the deck but waits by the shore of the pond to be fed. I have become attached to them . I named the male Fred and the female Beauty. The male is not aggressive even runs from my yorkie. The female puts my yorkie in his place. They both do not have mates, and they are the only one ( winter or summer) they look very regal among the geese . I really wish they would do something about all the geese. Way,
    Way too many.
    JWB NY

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