Contact: Jonathan McKnight | JMcKnight@dnr.state.md.us | 410-260-8539
ANNAPOLIS, MD (May 6, 2005) – The descendants of five pet mute swans that escaped from their Talbot County home in 1962 have grown to nearly 4000 in the Chesapeake Bay region – and natural resource managers are concerned that without control of adult swans this population, which has more doubled nine times in forty years, is about to double again. Mute Swans, a native of Asia, are the largest species of waterfowl in the Chesapeake Bay region and one of the world's most aggressive bird species. Their aggressive behavior has led to the displacement of native birds from nesting and feeding areas. Mute swans were responsible for driving the last remaining colony of Black Skimmers from the Chesapeake Bay and for eliminating important tern nesting habitats. But it is in the Chesapeake's underwater grass beds that the mute swan is having the most devastating effect. Already reeling from decades of water quality degradation, this important aquatic ecosystem is now being devoured at an alarming rate by the Chesapeake's burgeoning mute swan population. The current population eats an estimated 10.5 million pounds of aquatic grasses every year. If the population is allowed to double again, the level of consumption and disruption will rise accordingly.
Aquatic grasses are the base of most of the food chains in the Chesapeake estuary and many plants and animals depend upon them for survival, including many commercially important species. Native waterfowl graze the same grasses, but are only in the Chesapeake Bay region for over-wintering. Because mute swans are in the Chesapeake year-round, they spend the summer eating the new plants that are critical for the re-establishment of aquatic grass beds. Grass bed restoration, a key component in the effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, has been severely hampered by mute swans, who can wipe out a restoration planting in a few days.
Animal rights groups have chosen the mute swan as a favorite cause, alleging that State and Federal wildlife agencies are using the mute swan as a scapegoat for environmental problems, despite the fact that dozens of mainstream conservation groups, including the Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy and have endorsed immediate mute swan control. Animal rights activists have conducted a series of court actions against the Federal government that have prevented the Maryland Department of Natural Resources from controlling mute swans over the last two years. New legislation recently passed by Congress makes it clear that this invasive species has no federal protection. However, the animal activists have made it clear that they intend to keep up their court challenges.
For more information about other Invasive Species of Concern, visit the Maryland Invasive Species Council.