Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mute Swans Declining in New Jersey?

Apparently there are fewer mute swans in New Jersey this year.

Now, there is evidence mute swan populations in New Jersey may be on the decline for the first time since feral colonies took hold after captive birds were released on Long Island around 1912. Air and ground surveys from July to September revealed 34 percent fewer mute swans where previous surveys since 1986 showed large population increases.

Summer molting locations where 1,890 birds were counted in 2005, showed 1,253 birds this year. Deliberate eradication efforts to the south may be the reason.

"It's a lot easier to control something you don't see a lot and that is not as attractive," Nichols said. "But if you're interested in having an ecologically balanced community of waterfowl ... having fewer mute swans would be an ultimate goal."

Dozens of mute swans are killed in New Jersey annually to test for avian influenza, particularly the highly pathogenic, H5N1 strain linked to human illnesses abroad. But experts contend the swan's local decline is more likely linked to eradication efforts across the Delaware Bay in Maryland, specifically the ecologically sensitive Chesapeake Bay region.
While I can appreciate mute swans' beauty, we could stand to have fewer of them. The swans eat too much aquatic vegetation that native waterfowl need to survive. Many native species, such as black ducks and canvasbacks, have been in decline in their mid-Atlantic wintering areas for years due to a reduction in food sources. While there are clearly other factors at work as well, mute swans are a large part of the problem.