Some would say that the graceful mute swan was not always considered an invasive species, but conservationists and state officials agree that the birds have become a menace. According to the The New York Times, officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have proposed new marching orders for the agency that involves culling 2,200 mute swans by 2025.
“I knew there would be a lot of passionate defenders of swans, but we can’t base our management policies just on the aesthetics of a bird when it has such negative impacts,” DEC waterfowl specialist Bryan Swift told the Times.
Experts say that mute swans were initially brought to the United States from Europe in the late 1800s. The first birds were kept as breeders for domestic ponds and estates, where the species was well-regarded for their elegance. Mute swans were later released into the lower Hudson Valley and began establishing wild populations. Unfortunately, the birds have large appetites and can have a detrimental impact on aquatic ecosystems, which other birds and fish rely on. Swan feces also hold coliform bacteria that can make water unsafe for drinking or recreational activities.
With permission from landowners and local governments, the DEC intends to shoot or relocate the vast majority of the mute swan population in the state. While this plan has the support of some conservation groups and the DEC’s own wildlife experts, not everyone approves.
“Without unequivocal evidence, let’s not kill-off one animal population feigning that we are helping to save another,” wrote activist Jeffrey Kramer in the New York Daily News.
Kramer is a volunteer with GooseWatch NYC, an animal rights organization that has filed a petition to save the mute swan from the proposed culling. Other causal bird-watchers and residents who live near mute swan populations have also expressed discomfort with the plan. Despite this, several local chapters of the Audubon Society have indicated they they might support the ouster of mute swans from the state. Mike Burger, director of conservation and science for Audubon New York, commented that in the case of the mute swan, “lethal control is necessary.”
Many park visitors value the swans for their beauty, although the animals can be aggressive if provoked. Swans have previous been reported to attack canoeists, kayakers, hunters, and swimmers. As with many wild animals, experts advise caution when approaching wild swans.