Early Sunday morning was spent filming along the water’s edge. It was a gorgeous scene and I observed dozens of different species of wildlife foraging for seaweed, seagrass, seed heads, and sundry other native plants and grasses.
I left for a moment to go back to my car to change a camera lens and when I returned, there was an old woman throwing crackers at the ducks and the shoreline was littered with the unmistakeable bright orange of CHEETOS. Seriously??? First denying she had dumped the Cheetos, she stared mutely when I suggested that it is really not a good idea to feed our beautiful water birds junk food. Wildlife face challenges enough adapting to climate change and habitat destruction; it’s just plain common sense not to feed them garbage. She had her dog with her and I wanted to ask if she fed her dog junk food, too.
A bounty of food for wildlife, at this time of year especially, grows naturally along the shores, marshes, and meadows of Cape Ann. If you are interested in feeding a particular avian species, find out what is safe and healthy. For example, the best food for ducks such as mallards are those that provide nutrients, minerals, and vitamins and they include cracked corn, wheat or similar whole grains, chopped lettuce, spinach, and mealworms. The absolute worst and most unhealthy are bread, chips, crackers, popcorn, and it should go without saying, Cheetos.
The swans are returning to Cape Ann ponds and marshes!
During periods of extremely cold weather Mute Swans depart our region to search for vegetation to forage for at unfrozen bodies of water. The deep freeze of this past winter was especially difficult for our feathered friends.
Note the fleshy black knob at the base of the bill. For most of the year, the male and female’s knobs are about the same size. During mating season, which we are coming in to, it is much easier to do a side-by-side identification to determine if cob or pen because the male’s knob swells and becomes more prominent.
Mute Swans have 23 separate vertebrate in their necks, which is more than any other bird, including other swan species.
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GMG Reader Denise Penta writes in the comment section of a previous GMG post “Exterminate All Swans” by 2015:
June 2, 2014
“In Rockport, MA across from Pebble Beach I enjoyed a male and female mute swan along with their 4 pens. Two days later, I returned to take more photographs and they were gone. I have asked the regular walkers in that area if they have seen them and to my dismay, they disappeared. At the same time, the ducks has 5 babies and now there are only 4. I also noticed many round indentures in the sandy water near the shore and wonder if an animal frolicked about consuming some ducks. I miss the swans terribly. I also drove around the waters where they are found throughout the summer, but to no avail.
Then after reading several articles, including this one, I learned what is occurring more frequently is that of hunting and removal by state and federal wildlife officials. State and Federal wildlife officials are removing Mute Swans and killing them so that they can open new habitats to introduce the larger Trumpeter Swan species which will in the next few years be used as a Trophy Waterfowl for hunting purposes. Wildlife budgets are experiencing huge deficits and now wildlife officials are trying to enhance these budgets by enticing hunters through Trophy Waterfowl which will greatly increase hunting and the cost of hunting permits.
We have been fighting with other entities to stop this killing and have successfully worked with legislators in New York to introduce legislation to stop the killing of Mute Swans in New York until wildlife officials can present true research instead of the false basis for killing the swans that have been perpetuated upon the taxpayer. Yes, the taxpayer is funding this killing and reintroduction of the Trumpeter Swans so that a few of the population can enjoy them by killing them.
I would like to know who in God’s name gave these people permission to plan the killings and replacements? The government does not have an all-rights to nature and without votes from the public, there should be great protests to such an elimination. I would be the first one with a sign if I find the government removed our beloved swans.”
Addendum from Denise: “I apologize, I clicked send before placing quotations from the source that I got the information from, so here is the site link to where I got the information.” http://www.stanley-park-swans.com/cgi-bin/ask/index.pl?read=7412
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s war on swans includes gassing, shooting, and oiling eggs on nests to prevent them from hatching. Their stated goal is to eliminate all 2,200 Mute Swans in the state of New York by the year 2025.
Reasons cited are that the swans aggressively defend their young, they attack other waterfowl, and destroy habitat.
Audubon New York and the NYSDEC plan to put forth their agenda to the New York citizenry with their education campaign.
Mute swans were introduced in the previous century to decorate parks and estates. Today, exotic species receive a great deal of attention and generate much concern. Oftentimes information around exotics is too simplistic. Some invasions are life-threatening, but they do not often set off an extinction. They can even spur the evolution of new diversity and strengthen an existing species.
I’ve read contrary opinions, and observed the opposite, to the reasons given for the swan’s extermination. There are a number of issues to consider. Where do our readers stand on this developing story? What have been your observations and experiences when encountering a swan?
The above photo is a lucky capture as I was actually filming the Gadwalls behind the swan. When the swan began to lift out of the water I quickly turned my attention toward it. The first two photos are the same; the first is cropped, the second uncropped so that you can see the tremendous scale of the swan’s body and wings in relation to its environment. The Mute Swan is the second heaviest waterfowl, second only to the Trumpeter Swan. In observing swans, I marvel in nature that a creature this heavy can soar majestically through the clouds and swim so gracefully through water.
Mute swans feed primarily on submerged and emergent aquatic vegetation and a small percentage of their diet also includes frogs, small fish, and insects. Because swans feed in deep water they do not compete with smaller waterfowl such as ducks. It is thought that food is made more readily available to ducks because the swans do not eat all the food they pull up. This seems logical and factual from my own observations at our local ponds and marshes. I very often see a wide range of waterfowl congenially feeding with the Mute Swans.
Note ~ Mute swans, which are a nonnative species, do compete directly for food with North American native Trumpeter Swans, in regions where Trumpeter Swans are indigenous (Trumpeter Swans are not native to Cape Ann).
For more photos, information, and video see previous GMG posts about the Mute Swan:
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A reader emailed inquiring as to where do the Niles Pond swans go during the winter months. The Niles Pond swans are Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and they are neither mute nor migratory. They do not fly south in the true sense of a great migratory distance traveled, but do move around between bodies of water, and may move to a slightly warmer region.
Mute Swans swans grunt, snort, and hiss and their wingbeats make a beautiful throbbing sound when flying. See previous GMG posts about the Niles Pond Mute Swans ~
Several weeks ago in one of my posts about Niles Pond at Risk, I wrote about the beautiful Mute Swans at Niles. A reader wrote requesting a description of a phrase that I used, the “vibrant throbbing wingbeats” of the Mute Swan. I have shot hours of B-roll for both my Black Swallowtail and Monarch films at Niles Pond and at Brace Cove, so much so that I am making a mini film about Niles Pond. In organizing the Niles footage, I discovered some good audio of the swans throbbing wigbeats, filmed at sunrise.
The swans often take flight in unison, circling round and round the pond before returning. I patiently wait and wait and sometimes they don’t return, and as has happened more times than I care to say, while I am packing up my gear, they return and then I miss the shot for not being patient enough! Other times they will take flight and head over to feed at Brace Cove. A wedge of swans flying overhead is beautiful to observe, although a challenge to hold in my camera’s lens. Reviewing the footage I heard myself frequently cussing at the mosquitoes because their bite causes me to jag the camera sharply and then I lose sight of the swans. But one especially lucky dawn in September, I did manage to capture several flights.
Isn’t the music so swan-like? The composition is called “The Swan,” written by Camille Saint Saint-Saëns, and is the 13th Movement in a suite of 14 of the humorously themed Carnival of the Animals, Zoological Fantasy for 2 Pianos and Ensemble. See below for more about Carnival of the Animals from allmusic.
Watch on Vimeo if you prefer:
On that balmiest of all January Saturdays, Tom and I walked along the Rocky Neck beaches. The Flynn’s Beach swan did not at all appreciate the interest shown by our curious pooch.
Mute Swan Hissing
The Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is native to Europe and Asia and is an introduced species to North America. Called “mute” because they are less vocal than other swan species, the Mute Swan is also distinguished from other swan species by its prominent knob atop the bill. The male swan is called a cob, the female, a pen, and the young, cygnet. The female is slightly smaller than the male, and her knob is less pronounced.
Sand Bath ~ Note the grains of sand around the swan’s bill (click photo for larger view); the swan appeared to be using the sand as an aid in cleaning it’s feathers.