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Bird-en: Putting a price on a swan’s head

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Under the Department of Environmental Conservation’s new mute swan management plan, individuals or local governments can save swans by funding their captivity in a licensed facility. The stipulations are that caretakers must adhere to the department’s guidelines, which means the birds may not wander off the property and the birds may not reproduce, according to the department.

So what would it cost to save a mute swan? The department couldn’t give an estimate, so we talked to a few fowl experts for a completely unscientific study of the price the state is putting on a mute swan’s head.

To ensure that the swans don’t fly away, according to Sheila Bolin, president of the Regal Swan Foundation, you would have to perform a pinion — the amputation of a bird’s joint. Bolin said it is a costly procedure that can be fatal when attempted on birds older than three weeks. An alternative to a pinion is clipping the bird’s wings but Bolin said wing clipping has to be performed twice a year, and if the bird still manages to fly away, you will have a dead bird — and costly fine.

“The DEC will shoot ’em out of the sky and charge you a $500 fine,” she said.

The largest expense will be maintaining a swan’s natural setting. Wildlife rehabilitator Eileen Jones, who takes care of two swans in her home, said she installed a pool with a filtering system, which cost a whopping $5,000. The bird lover said a potential swan caretaker also has to factor in electricity costs for the filter, but she said she doesn’t know how much it will cost, because she tries not to think about how much money she spends on her fine, feathered friends.

“To be perfectly honest, I’ve never wanted to know how much it costs to take care of them,” said Jones.

After the big one-time fees, there are still everyday expenses. Jones said the food she feeds her fowl is only available at CG Feeds in Staten Island, which means a frequent $15 toll. A 50-pound bag costs $21 and birds eat about 4 to 6 pounds a day, so one bag of feed would last about 10 days.

Here is our total breakdown of the cost of keeping one mute swan safe from execution for one year:

$700 for the pinion fee

$5,000 for the pool and filtering system

$766.50 for feed

$547.50 in tolls cost to purchase food from across the Narrows

So the total cost would be $7,014 — and $7,514 if your swan flies the coop.

Reach reporter Vanessa Ogle at vogle@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–4507. Follow her attwitter.com/oglevanessa.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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