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Author: Jennifer Forman Orth

Invading your brain since 2002.

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Friday, January 26, 2007


The Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel is reporting that the state's Natural Resources Board has decided to employ an experimental adoption program in their efforts to control invasive mute swans (Cygnus olor). Residents that are interested in sponsoring a swan must be willing to pay to neuter and band the bird. The move comes in response to the staunch opposition to current mute swan control programs, which include culling and addling eggs to prevent them from hatching.

I am not aware of the details of the program, but I wonder if it will be possible for enough of the swans to get "adopted" such that reproduction virtually ceases. As soon as I can locate more information (including the cost of adoption), I'll post it here. In the meantime, if there's a Wisconsin mute swan you've had your eye on, be sure to register with the state by June 1st 2007.

Update: bootstrap analysis has weighed in on the mute swan adoption plan, definitely worth a read.

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OMG. When will science prevail and wildlife agencies be able to stand up for the best solution? Every banded, neutered swan may not reproduce, but will still occupy territory and, more importantly, consume eight pounds of vegetation every day for the rest of its very long life. And is capturing and performing surgery on a high-strung bird like this really humane? h

By Anonymous Nuthatch, at 1/27/2007 06:31:00 PM  

All those things are true, but it seems like neutering could be preferable in the long term to continued, yearly killings. Unfortunately the reality is that this is more likely just a way of dealing with public outcries and neutering is not intended to be part of a long-term management plan. I hope the Wisconsin DNR puts some information up on their website soon.

Not knowing much about swan breeding, I am interested in how the neutering would affect their behavior. Would it prevent eggs from being laid? Would swans still pair and make nests?

By Blogger Jenn, at 1/27/2007 07:19:00 PM  

I don't have much idea on swan breeding and I am just curious if this action means preserving the lives of the swan?

By Anonymous nicole, at 2/01/2007 04:37:00 AM  

The intent of the program is to preserve the lives of the adopted swans. The caveat though, is that the sterilization process (capture plus the medical procedure) is very stressful and one of the possible risks is death. Click the link to the bootstrap analysis post for details.

By Blogger Jennifer Forman Orth, at 2/01/2007 02:04:00 PM  

The issue of the Mute swan is not a simple matter of removing a non-native species to help a native species survive. If that is what you believe, then you have been very carefully and systematically misled.

Please believe that I am not unaware of the problems that non-native flora and fauna can cause when introduced unnaturally, and in many if not most of these cases, there is a definite need to remove the offending creature or vegetation by whatever means necessary. Zebra mussels, nutria, the snakehead fish, etc. all present frankly disastrous scenarios if left unchecked. I do not disagree with the need for this. However, this is not the case with the Mute swans, and I have 7 years of research to back this up, attesting to the native status of this swan: Mute Swan migration, behavior and paleontological material, as well as data published over the last hundred years, plus approximately 200 books, including very early Colonist's journals and highly technical data on bio-geography provided by extensively-published and highly respected world experts in ornithology, bioscience, and paleontology from the Smithsonian, UCLA, the University of Arizona, Yale Ornithology Department, Cal. Museum of Natural History, British Museum, Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, Oxford University in Great Britain and the International Ornithologist's Council, among them:
Robert Alison, PhD, a Canadian ornithologist who has worked with both the U.S. and Canadian governments in the field of avian management. He has written extensively on the Mute Swans.

Howard Savage (now deceased) was a former staff paleontologist at the University of Toronto, Department of Ornithology.

Gerry Martz, a former Michigan Department of Natural Resources waterfowl specialist, who has detailed the history of Mute Swans in that state.

Jeff Bickart, who was involved in the early study of Arizona Mute swan fossils.

Dr. Paul S. Martin, University of Arizona, and author of many books on the Great Migration from Asia and Pre-Columbian America, who states the key position, "The question is not why would the Mute swans be here (in the U.S.)? It is, rather, why wouldn't they?"

You stated that the plans to try and control mute swan populations are an attempt to save "our" native swans and conserve habitat for native species by groups such as the Nature Conservancy, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&W), the Audubon Society and many state and private land trusts. That is the benign cover story that all of these groups plus others have worked in coordinated effort to spin. The next level down (and quite under the radar) is where the true story begins.

The "war against the Mute swan," as described by Ruth Gale, of the Trumpeter Swan Society, was launched decades ago to announce a program to kill off Mutes in Yosemite on the basis that they might compete for habitat with the larger, more aggressive Trumpeter swans. The Society is peopled by many state and federal agency people, most in retirement, and has been funded for many years by U.S. tax money. Their original goal was to reestablish populations of Trumpeters in their historic range, but that changed, to putting them everywhere from coast to coast and creating a new "trophy bird," the largest waterfowl on this continent, to which Harvey Nelson, then president of the Society, agreed. Mute swans were to be killed (80%) and "neutered and pinioned and placed in parks," (20%) - a one generation extinction on this continent. This is exactly what is happening now. U.S. Federal funds are, at this moment, being used to grow a small hunting organization headed by Scott Petrie (see Longpoint Website, "history") on the northern side of the Great Lakes, at Long Point, to promulgate and promote the extinction of Mute swans for the benefit of the new "trophy bird," whose life patterns are very similar to the Mutes. So what you have here is the decimation of one type of swan (albeit one that is associated with peace, love and beauty, hence the public’s refusal to hunt it, hence the secret plan to exterminate it out of view of the public - "silent killings") strictly to bring in an almost identical swan, with all the same government-hyped (yet untrue) predilection for alleged environmental damage as the Mutes, except Trumpeters are more aggressive and LOUD. When Trumpeters have been established, you just watch - the hunters and wildlife managers will announce a problem that only hunting will resolve; a problem of their own making, the beginnings of which we are witnessing now. And peculiarly, they are now trying to establish Trumpeters in non-native areas, the very thing they are killing the Mutes for.

It is important that you understand that the government agency people who are making the decisions on this issue have produced zero scientific studies against the swans. Even the ones they cite are full of facts that say the Mutes' effect on the environment is negligible, then they try to twist their data to suit their goals. The so-called "science" of ornithology is not a science at all; it is bird watching, bird banding and bird killing and stuffing as specimens. Most ornithologists are not biologists or zoologists, and record keeping by the USF&W as to species began less than a hundred years ago....and these are the people considered "experts."

USF&W does not have a great track record. It is the Federal agency that introduced fish that decimated other fish, poisoned huge lakes to get rid of those fish and destroyed all life in those lakes; lied about finding lynx hair in the forest to create interest in a new program to be funded by taxpayers; through utter mismanagement, has allowed the kill-off of our most important fish species along both coasts because of commercial pressure; has killed off millions of song birds through spraying programs and the introduction of raptors into areas where the smaller birds have never had such a threat before; has caused the destruction of habitat for millions of birds by filling in wetlands and allowing the destruction of forests......the list is endless and continues on a daily basis, and now you can add the Mute swan holocaust to this list.
In Maryland, where all the trouble started, in Hill vs. Norton, a district court case concerning saving the Mutes, the Federal Court was given an Environmental Impact Study by USF&W ), stating the charges, repeated like a mantra. That study was thrown out of court as "Junk Science." and the judge demanded that USF&W do a legitimate NEPA study (an environmental assessment that takes several years of thorough investigation of all factors). Since they knew that a NEPA study would permanently prove that the swans are relatively harmless, USF&W instead got The Audubon Society (primarily a hunting organization now) and the Nature Conservancy (ditto) to lobby for them to change the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to exclude the Mute swans. They didn't mind taking down almost 100 other birds, some of them endangered, along with the swans. This was accomplished at the end of 2005, and the killing programs began. There has NEVER been an environmental impact study on the Mute swans. I will repeat this because it is very important: THERE HAS NEVER BEEN AN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STUDY ON THE MUTE SWANS. How then can they justify this killing program? (Re the Audubon Society, the head scientist for National Audubon, Frank Gill (of Pennsylvania) stated in a New York Times article few years ago: "We are becoming more and more a trapping and hunting group." But from the beginning, hunting has been more than approved by Audubon and they worked with bird propagators on growing waterfowl, etc. for hunting and as part of the focus of the Cornell/Audubon Laboratories at Cornell University, in the growing and propagation of game birds.)

Here is a perfect example of how facts were distorted to destroy the Mute swan's reputation: Maryland's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) had repeatedly explained that Mute swans have only a “negligible” impact on the Chesapeake. Then they tried to change their story and came out with claims that the Mute swans kill off eelgrass, which is used by the other waterfowl. However, there have been three WORLDWIDE die-offs of eelgrass since 1900. It is a cyclical thing. The eelgrass can also be killed by a four degree temperature rise in the water, pollutants, and, since it grows in shallow water, heavy boat usage and fast boat speeds, as well as dredging and trawling. The Chesapeake Bay has 2.5 MILLION birds go through each year. 3,500 Mute swans were not destroying anything. Many of the other waterfowl eat eelgrass.

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the two leading threats to the bay’s crucial underwater grasses are agricultural waste run-off and sewage treatment plants. But the big industrial chicken producers lobby hard to defeat any serious attempt to control agricultural waste. Appropriating money to upgrade sewage treatment capacity is not glamorous. It also won't generate fees for hunting licenses. It’s much easier for public officials to scapegoat the Mute swans than to grapple with complex environmental problems. But even the CBF released a report early in 2005 revealing that the upper bay’s underwater grasses—which groups like American Bird Conservancy (conserving them for hunting) and Audubon claim are being eaten to extinction by Mute swans—had more than doubled from 2003 to 2004. That was the year that the Hill vs. Norton district court case halted swan killing for about a year, before the MBTA was gutted. So it was not only a very good year for the Mute swans, but was a banner year for bay grasses as well. What does that tell you?

As for the aggression factor, Trumpeters are clearly the more aggressive species. I have a news article showing one actually trying to attack a small plane! I have several pages from Trumpeter Swan Society meetings, one of which was written by the ex-President of the group (all USF&W and state DEP, DNR guys, by the way) in which he states that Trumpeters kill baby ducks, grown ducks and geese and will maim or kill Mute swans. The other paper was written by Joe Johnson, head swan biologist at Kellogg bird sanctuary at U of Michigan. He is like a proud father, talking about the Trumpeters breaking Mute swan's legs, and he comments "My money is always on the Trumpeter, in a swan fight.") I have numerous other similar comments all attesting to the Trumpeter's aggression over the Mute.

I have yet to read about Trumpeter aggression, but there are endless news articles detailing Mute aggression; however, oddly, critical facts are often left out. For instance, there was a news story circulated over the summer, out of Indiana, claiming a Mute swan attacked and held an 11-year old girl underwater until her father beat the bird away. What the article didn't bother to mention was that the girl had been joining some young boys in torturing the swan's cygnets by throwing ropes tied into little nooses around the birds' necks and attempting to drag them and drown them. In Europe, there are signs all over parks asking people to respect the swans and not disturb them. Here, we have no respect for them, and blame them when they defend their families.

Last but by no means least, there is a new paper meticulously documenting clear evidence of the Mute's native status in the United States. That alone should put this silent killing project on hold while the information is being considered.

As I hope you can see, this issue is not really about the native-ness of the Mute swan at all- one needs only to follow the money to see that it is a subtle and concerted effort by a very powerful special interest minority to circumvent and distort the law for their own use and they have no qualms taking a species to extinction to do it.

By Anonymous Arlene Steinberg, at 2/08/2007 06:39:00 PM  

I have a situation where our cob is attacking the female which just started during mating season. They are trumpeter swans and live in a very large pond on an estate in Napa Valley, California. He pecks at her head drawing blood. She was taken to the vet where he fixed her up and then suggested we keep her in a separate pen until she healed. We released her this week, and she was so happy to be back in the water when the cob attacked her again. They have had a great relationship since January 2006, but ever since mating season started this year, we have had serious issues. She is now enclosed in her own place where he cannot enter to protect her. He did have a previous mate to her that died passing her egg in May 2005. We introduced the new female and they got along famously.

We are really interested in cygnets and keeping them happy, so any advice here would be greatly appreciated.

If we do need to remove both of them, do you have a great source of where to find another pair?

By Anonymous Erin Lail, at 4/19/2007 03:07:00 AM  

Please note - I have just noticed that my comments dated 2/8/07 somehow omitted the final line referencing the source for the information and the person who performed and owns the research mentioned - this would be Kathryn Burton, SaveOurSwans. This may have been inadvertently lost in cutting and pasting; I do not know, but I have just discovered it and wish to correct it. Thank you.

By Anonymous Arlene Steinberg, at 6/12/2007 12:09:00 PM  

Have you ever been attacked by one of these swans? Let me tell you it's quite an experience to have one of these birds ride along your the side of your kayak, pushing against it, challenging you so you cannot paddle and move on. if you slow down, it eyes you and hisses. At eye level this is really great fun. Then it will turn and go behind you, climb on the back of your boat, beat you with it's wings and legs and peck you with it's beak drawing blood.
We have found that throwing bread will slow it down giving you a chance to get away. Not to say it's going to stop chasing you and attack you when you try to exit your boat. overall, i think these are wonderful birds that make really great neighbors and friends. NOT. Perhaps the pepper spray is not a bad idea.r

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/30/2008 07:06:00 PM  

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