Mute Swan is the beautiful terrorist

Many of you will be very surprised at the title of this article.
I don’t think there is any bird which floats on the water which is more beautiful that the Mute Swan.
They are pure white, with a pinkish or orangey beak. The male (cob) has a black knob at the base of the beak.
It sails on the water with its neck in a graceful curve. And very often, it floats along with its wings partially lifted.
Swans, in the river or on the pond, are very impressive birds.
In England, Mute Swans are the property of the King, and it has been that way since the reign of Edward IV in 1492.
They have been introduced to many parts of the world, including North America. They are the swans of our parks and country estates.
However, like many introductions from abroad, there is a darker side to them.
They have been deliberately introduced into several parts of our continent. In Maryland, about 50 were released. Now, 20 or 25 years later, there are about 5,000.
In Michigan, there also are about 5,000.
In southern Ontario, although nine have been deliberately released, there are about 1,000 so far, mostly along the edges of the Great Lakes.
What could these beautiful birds do which is so harmful? Well, for one thing, there are extremely overprotective. When a pair of swans have a nest, they consider about 10-15 acres as their personal territory.
They will trample the eggs of any bird which nests on the ground—gulls, terns, grebes, ducks, geese, and even the smaller herons.
A male Mute Swan will not tolerate Canada Geese within sight of where he lives. They promptly will kill any ducklings or goslings which come anywhere near them.
Not your friendly bird.
And in Britain, they have been known to attack small dogs—and even children in some of the parks.
But that’s not all. They are voracious feeders.
All swans live on water plants and roots. But Mute Swans are larger than our native swans, and can reach much further down in the water, maybe to about four feet, to pull up grasses and weeds by the roots.
And they destroy much more than they eat. And they eat a lot—up to eight or nine pounds of vegetation per day.
In some places, they have done away with so much grass and weeds that fish, crabs, crayfish, and other plant-dependant animals have nearly disappeared.
In Chesapeake Bay, for instance, they have just about destroyed the wild rice beds, leaving holes up to 20 inches deep in the sea floor.
There are at least 10,000 of these swans along the Atlantic seaboard. And where they are numerous, a lot of the ground-nesting seabirds are gone, not to mention a lot of the grasses and weeds which live on the edge of the ocean.
Now this is a beautiful bird. When you see a male swan (cob) sailing along, he looks regal and majestic. Not much wonder that British royalty took a great fancy to him.
And when you see the female (pen) take all seven or eight of her young ones (cygnets) onto her back, you get a warm, fuzzy feeling about motherhood and all that.
Mute Swans are admired by just about everyone. And that’s why it is so hard to do anything to keep them under control (you can imagine the furor if anyone wants to hunt them).
But one trick seems to work—and that is to replace their eggs with Trumpeter Swan eggs.
As long as the cygnets are sprayed to make them look dark, the Mutes will look after them as though they were their own, thereby accomplishing two things at once.
The Mute Swan is a big bird—the biggest waterfowl in the world. Cygnus olor is about 1.5 metres long and has a wingspan of about 2.5 metres.
They are called Mute, and they don’t say very much. But they do hiss like a steam pipe when angry, or bark like a small dog.
They normally live to be about 30 or so, but some have lived for nearly 100 years.
In Ontario, none have been released by the government, but some have just escaped. If you own Mute Swans, you are supposed to clip their wings, but some people don’t.
Some just swim away. And some kindly, but misguided, folk simply release them—to “return” them to the wild.
Don’t go swimming too close to shore if there are swans around. If the cob has a mind to, he will attack you.
And you will be quite sorry!

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