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Who Knew Mute Swans Were Such Coastal Pests?

Two Mute Swans swimming in Long Island Sound.
Two Mute Swans swimming in Long Island Sound. Photo Credit: William Haffey

The coastal regions of the tristate area are home to many attractive, iconic birds. Perhaps none is so loved and admired as the graceful Mute Swan, which can be frequently spotted paddling in small groups near the shore.

Despite these swans' fixture in the local avian community, many may be surprised to learn that this was not always the case. Unlike Tundra and Trumpeter Swans, the Mute Swan is not native to North America, and was released along the Eastern Seaboard in the late 19th century.

Originally found across Europe and parts of Asia, the Mute Swan is considered a symbol of beauty, fidelity, and purity for centuries. In England, this affection is taken even further, as any free-flying untagged swans are considered “royal birds,” protected property of the British Crown. Despite their non-native status in the United States, some states like Connecticut have afforded the Mute Swan limited legal protection while they nonetheless pursue means for controlling the species’ population growth.

Many states see the Mute Swan as a nuisance with negative ecological impact rather than a coastline ornament. The large and aggressive swans easily overpower native waterfowl, driving them from feeding grounds and nesting sites.

Studies have shown that in the Chesapeake Bay, Mute Swans have overgrazed many of the underwater vegetation that is very important to native species wintering in the area.

Additionally, these aquatic plants provide necessary habitat to scores of young fish and invertebrates, several of which are valuable parts of the local economy.

While the swan population along the East Coast is far too large to eliminate entirely, wildlife management officials are working hard to minimize their negative impact. Though it's difficult to think of such a beautiful bird as a pest, one cannot forget how easily coastal ecosystems can be disrupted.

Through the effective management of Mute Swans, we can hope to create a less disturbed ecosystem to benefit many of our beloved native waterfowl, fish and invertebrates.

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