Comments: Should "non-native" Mute swans be managed?

Feb 3, 2011

The Environment Report's Rebecca Williams produced a piece the other day on the Michigan DNRE's proposal to limit the number of Mute swans in the state (the swans with an orange bill).

The Michigan DNRE has been trying to reduce their population in the state for decades. By reducing Mute swan numbers, state wildlife officials hope to allow more room for native birds, such as Loons and Trumpeter swans (the USFWS says Mute swans were brought to the U.S. more than 100 years ago as "decorative waterfowl" for parks, zoos, and estates).

On February 10th, the Natural Resources Commission is expected to vote on a DNRE proposal that would make it illegal for wildlife rehabilitators to nurse Mute swans back to health.

The proposal, like any proposal to limit Mute swan numbers, has sparked a lot of debate.

We received several comments on the Environment Report web page about the proposal and about managing Mute swans in general.

Native vs. non-native

One poster, "lisapaull59" wrote in saying the native vs. non-native debate is absurd:

The mute swans have been here 200 years! If we didn't want them in the USA, this should've been addressed long ago. What needs killing next? House fiches? they aren't native to the states, either, and compete with native birds for food. What about all non-native American? They aren't "native" to the USA,either, better get rid of all of us, too!

"Diane" wrote to say she agreed with the wildlife rehabilitator in the story:

I agree with Susanne Koschke..."The swans, after about 200 years, they are a part of this country."

"Mute swans are not aggressive"

One reason the DNRE gives for wanting to reduce Mute swan numbers is the bird's aggressiveness. Several people wrote in with stories saying that's not so.

"Joanna" wrote in with a story about the Mute swans that live nearby:

A family of eight mute swans were regular visitors last year. The male trusted me so much he came up on the lawn on a regular basis to see me and eat out of my hand. He startled our nephew when he got out of his car as he thought it was a lawn ornament until it stood up to its full height. The entire family recognized my car sound and front door opening as they would swim over immediately when they heard either one of those sounds...Then, out on the lake last fall, someone killed him. I cried. I didn't see him but my neighbors told me the family of seven still came around, but never on land. He never once charged at me. He was beautiful.

The user "CLMCDALOHA" wrote to say:

I have seen people harass swans with jet skis and kayaks alike. They are not aggressive birds, but will defend their babies as any good parent would. I have handled and helped many swans and have never encountered a so called aggressive one. The are in fact very gentle birds.

Allow rehabbers to work on the birds

Some wrote in to say the DNRE's proposal to stop wildlife rehabilitators should not go forward:

The user "Gacraven" relayed a story about a male Mute swan on a lake in Oakland County:

Last Fall, the male swan on our small lake swallowed a fishing line and with the help of a dedicated wildlife rehabber, we were able to capture him and take him to a vet to have the hook removed. Campers at the park love these animals and were so moved, they chipped in to cover a $280.00 vet bill! I am totally horrified that the DNR may be killing these beautiful animals.

And "Firewithin" wrote to say that non-native or not, rehabbers should not be kept from working on the birds. This is a story about a rehabber relayed to the poster:

He was brought a mute swan with a wounded neck. He sewed it up and slowly the skin grew back as he tended to it tightening the stitches very slowly. When the DNR saw it they accused him of not destroying it as he was told. He told them he was practicing for when a trumpeter swan was brought in. He told me he would not discriminate, all were God's children.

Others wrote in to say they questioned the DNRE's motives, saying the DNRE will eventually want to open a hunting season on Trumpeter swans (in a follow-up phone call, the DNRE's Barbara Avers told Rebecca Williams that the DNRE has no plans to allow a hunting season on either Trumpeter or Mute swans). And others questioned the DNRE's research, saying the research is not based on what is going on in Michigan.

And while many are upset with the DNRE, others are supportive, saying the goal to boost the population of other birds is worth it. "Rork" wrote:

I have been seeing more of the native trumpeters lately. We can have these birds make a big come-back, and reducing the mutes will help. I want more communities to obtain permits to destroy them. Maybe "they are part of this country" for now, but we should try to fix that. The trumpeters were part of this country, and we extirpated them, so it probably can be done to the mutes as well. More loons would be nice too.

So what are your thoughts? Should the DNRE proposal to stop wildlife rehabbers from helping injured Mute swans go forward? Or is there a better way to manage these birds? Or should they be left alone altogether?