Swan song: State targets elegant, invasive birds for eradication

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What does an ugly duckling grow up to become in New York? A dead swan, that’s what — if the state gets its way!

Albany has declared the mute swan an enemy of the state and plans to eradicate the menace by 2025.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s recently released “Mute Swan Management Plan,” labels the bird an invasive species that hurts the environment and calls for the elimination of the per-swan-a non grata’s free-ranging population in the state.

“This plan supports actions by DEC to eliminate free-ranging mute swans from New York by 2025,” the department’s website reads.

The bird, which can weigh up to 25 pounds and is New York’s largest fowl, has become ubiquitous along Southern Brooklyn’s waterfront and Prospect Park is home to nine of the birds, according to the anti-fowl-slaughter group Goosewatch NYC.

Mute swans are a particularly common sight in Sheepshead Bay, where one unfortunate feathered friend was discovered suffering from lead poisoning on E. 19th Street near Emmons Avenue last summer by local resident Sharon Messer, who happened to be the office manager for then-Assemblyman Steve Cymbrowitz.

The big-hearted state employee quickly summoned the NYPD, which transported the swan to the Wild Bird Fund in Manhattan, where it was treated before being sent to live out its days at a bird sanctuary in Stamford, Conn.

Other Brooklynites have a soft spot for swans as well, such as Anne-Katrin Titze and her trusty sidekick Ed Bahlman, who rescued three swans in Prospect Park last June that had gotten their beaks snared on carelessly discarded fishing hooks.

But in the eyes of the state, Messer, the Wild Bird Fund, Bahlman, and even Titze — a wildlife rehabilitator licensed by none other than the Department of Environmental Conservation — were all aiding and abetting a foul fowl bent on the destruction of New York’s watery habitats.

“Mute swans can cause a variety of problems, including aggressive behavior towards people, destruction of submerged aquatic vegetation, displacement of native wildlife species, degradation of water quality, and potential hazards to aviation,” reads the department’s website.

The mute swan, which was introduced to the New World from Europe in the late 19th century, may be prized for its aesthetic qualities, but it’s also a vicious brawler, known to harass hapless pedestrians and other birds, which wander too close the swan’s nesting areas.

In addition, the mute swan is a terrible glutton, and has been gobbling up underwater plant life at an alarming rate, according to the agency, destroying 95 percent of submerged vegetation where they hang out, thus depriving other animals of food and habitat.

But perhaps most disturbing is what happens to all that vegetation after the swans eat it.

The department cites a 1979 study in Maryland of a similar species — tundra swans — which found they excreted 100 times more fecal coliform bacteria than Canada geese. A follow-up study by the department confirmed that water in areas where mute swans feed had elevated concentrations of coliform bacteria, which can trigger beach closings when detected at high levels.

This is not the first time Brooklyn has been touched by anti-avian atrocities — authorities carried out a goose massacre in Prospect Park in 2010, sparking widespread public outrage and pro-goose civic action. And the state regularly rounds up and gasses geese on Brooklyn’s southern shore.

Public opinion could stall the state’s swan culling initiative. The mute swan’s distinctive white plumage, black facial markings, and gracefully curved neck have become symbols of beauty and romance, so the idea of tax dollars funding a program to exterminate the birds may not go over well.

“There are different actions at play and people are trying to do their best to have this turned around,” said veterinarian Rita McMahon, who cared for the sick swan found in Sheepshead Bay. “All the swans that people respond to about how lovely and majestic they are, those are mute swans.”

Indeed, GooseWatch NYC — a group spawned by the infamous Prospect Park goose massacre — has already started a petition on

It has gotten more than 20,000 signatures so far.

The state is taking comments on the plan through Feb. 21. Mail to NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Swan Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or e-mail with “Swan plan” in the subject line.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4514.
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Reasonable discourse

judah spechal from bed stuy says:
sick, cruel.........murderers
Jan. 24, 2014, 10:45 am
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
"The bird, which can weigh up to 25 pounds and is New York’s largest fowl, has become ubiquitous along Southern Brooklyn’s waterfront."

I hate to be the one to have to ask this question, but nobody else has, and I've given them ample time to do so:
If these 25lb birds are going to be killed anyway, why not use them to feed the poors in Brooklyn? How is it not a shame to just destroy them and throw them away, like so many candy wrappers? And as for the people who believe it is unsafe to eat such a bird-I must remind them that they have eaten cat at least twice in their lives, on average, and that they are still alive, and probably never even noticed or got sick. Also, for those of you eat calamari often: what do you think you are eating 85 percent of the time when you order it? I'll give you a hint: it's not calamari. In fact, it comes from a very different animal (and from a disconcerting PART of that different animal, if you don’t mind my saying so).
A shame, indeed.
Pardon the interruption.
John Wasserman
Jan. 24, 2014, 1:21 pm
Joanne from Windsor Terrace says:
What the HELL? Do they have to kill everything? this is getting more depressing every day.

I frequent Prospect Park and I am guessing there will be hell to pay should they come in and kill the swans that live there.

I'd rather see them oil the eggs than kill them. I hope they leave that group alone and I hope park officials speak up for them,

Enough already....sheeesh...
Jan. 24, 2014, 4:52 pm
john from clinton hill says:
lets go after the pitt bull in this manner
Jan. 25, 2014, 10:40 am
Marlene from Long Island says:
This is ridiculous. Please contact your Senator & Congressman to get this stopped!
Jan. 25, 2014, 11:33 am
jay from nyc says:
nope, I have ZERO problem with this.
Jan. 25, 2014, 1:47 pm
Ty from pps says:
Swan Breast on sale at the Park Slope Food Co-op!
Jan. 25, 2014, 1:52 pm
SwampYankee from runined Brooklyn says:
this article is much funnier if you re-read it and substitute "hipster" for "mute swan". build is about the same, long pencil neck, neither has arms and both "deprive native wildlife of food and habitats"
Jan. 26, 2014, 6:52 am
K. from ArKady says:
So it goes without saying that getting rid of the geese has only opened the niche for another species, this time the swan. I wonder what you'll get when you kill them off? What a stupid and pointless game to play.
Jan. 26, 2014, 3:58 pm
John Wasserman from Prospect Heights says:
If they had removed all of the insects from the park as they had promised, we wouldn't be in this "pickle". Of course this is only one man's opinion. Having said that, it is Ill Eagle to kill a swan in NYC. Was anyone able to see just what it was that I did there?
John Wasserman/watcher of birds/Patriot
Jan. 26, 2014, 4:23 pm
John Audobon from CPW says:
You're a loon Wasserman
Jan. 26, 2014, 6:12 pm
Homey from Crooklyn says:
Yeah Wasserman is an idiot...or a troll with a retarded sense of humor.
Jan. 27, 2014, 8:52 am
Swan Saver from BK says:
there is a petition to try to stop this:
Jan. 27, 2014, 10:58 am
Ace from New Utrecht says:
It is all about money. The birds are murdered by a contractor hired by the DEC. Investigate the relationship between those hired and the DEC and you will really find something "foul".

And of course: our tax dollars are paying for this.
Jan. 27, 2014, 11:30 am
ted from park slope says:
Didn't I read this last year?
Jan. 27, 2014, 1:30 pm
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
They are an ecological problem and they are causing serious damage. This is the proper way to deal with the issue in the short-term, but long term plans should exist to keep this kind of thing from happening in the first place.
Jan. 27, 2014, 4:56 pm

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