Mute swans can become king of the pondWORTHINGTON — I was reading the Daily Globe during the past few weeks and was following the story about the local mute swan issue that was unfolding.
By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — I was reading the Daily Globe during the past few weeks and was following the story about the local mute swan issue that was unfolding.
The issue at hand for those who missed it was regarding a pair of mute swans that were released or escaped into Sunset Bay on Lake Okabena that were owned by some local citizens.
I saw the swans often and they really were a pretty sight.
I thought their existence in the wild was against state regulation, but I didn’t have a dog in this fight so I just kept driving.
The paper did a story on the swans, and as a result, it came to the attention of the area Department of Natural Resources (DNR) personnel. My information is not very in depth or first hand, but it seems that as a result of this information getting out the DNR has required that the swans in question be removed from Sunset Bay and contained.
This means they need to be fenced or housed and made unable to fly. One other option that was on the table was their destruction.
The mute swans in Worthington have done little damage to the place they call home. I don’t think that anybody in the picture would dispute this.
However, these swans are in hot water because of events that are happening sporadically around the upper Midwest and in the eastern United States specifically. Almost all of these events are located far from here.
A little background is in order. Mute swans have been considered almost royalty in many countries. They were first introduced in the United States in the early 1800’s for their elegance and grace. They have been a favorite of captive breeders.
They get very big. These birds can be more than four feet tall on land and in flight have a wingspan that exceeds six feet. They nest like any other swan and lay between four and 10 eggs and they have an 85 percent survival rate when they reach adulthood. You see very few of these birds around this area.
It was a very confusing ordeal as to who was responsible for mute swan management. The federal government was in charge for a while, and then it skipped around the states and now, as a result of the damage that they do, they have been categorized as a non-native invasive species.
So just what is it that mute swans do that is so bad? In areas where there is more than a pair or two, the results can be measurable.
The fist issue that game managers have with the non-native mute swan is its competition with other birds. They are very territorial and can run of almost any competitor for the same space. Other native swans like trumpeter swans and tundra swans get displaced when mute swans occupy an area. They have been known to attack other smaller species like ducks, loon and even family pets that come too close.
There have been many encounters with mute swans and small watercraft like canoes and the like. Mute swans think that they are the kings of the pond and will act like it on more than a few occasions.
Their populations are growing at an alarming rate in many parts of the country.
Mute swans will normally only allow one pair per water body. It is this action that forces out other ducks and geese. Mute swans are aggressive feeders. They consume many pounds of vegetation per day. In certain areas of the county they are able to wipe out certain important aquatic plants that many other waterfowl need to survive.
They can stay in certain open water areas all year long and this feeding activity can actually completely wipe out certain types of desirable vegetation.
It is these feeding activities and the displacement of other native waterfowl that have gotten mute swans in hot water. The issue in this area is that these two swans on their own have limited negative effects but how do you enforce rules that are good for wildlife populations specifically waterfowl in one area and turn a blind eye in another?
I have a saying that goes “The rules need to be enforced equally to all parties.” If the rule is no longer needed or lacks effectiveness it should be changed or eliminated.
Mute swans have not gotten a solid foothold in Minnesota as a result of the regulations that are in place. The time to control invasive species is before they get a foothold and become established in the state. This is the current condition of mute swans in Minnesota.
Science has proven that mute swans need management across the United States, and as a result, they will ultimately need to be managed here as well. The current unrest as to the ultimate disposition of the local mute swans has not yet settled, and I believe their fate has yet to be determined.
They are certainly a beautiful bird and I think that folks will continue to have them to enjoy. Even though they are beautiful, history has proven that many things that are beautiful can really cause problems later on when they get out of control.
Many other animal species and plants that have been embraced by humans have done just that over the past 20 years.
I think that mute swans can and will continue to be enjoyed, I just don’t think that it will be in public waters.